TOKYO — U.S. women's beach volleyball pair Alix Klineman and April Ross have taken gold at the Tokyo Olympics, handily defeating Australia in the final match.
It was a "fairy tale ending," as Klineman put it, for the duo who started playing together in 2017 shortly after Klineman switched from indoor volleyball.
Ross, 39, has a silver medal from the 2012 London Games and a bronze from 2016 at the Rio de Janeiro Games. The victory today completes her medal set.
Klineman and Ross hugged between points as they racked up straight-set wins against Taliqua Clancy and Mariafe Artacho del Solar, 21-15, 21-16.
Returning beach volleyball gold to the U.S.
Historically, U.S. women have been incredibly dominant in beach volleyball at the Olympics.
Ross was previously paired with Kerri Walsh Jennings, and they took the bronze in 2016 at the Rio de Janeiro Games. Walsh Jennings won gold in 2004, 2008 and 2012 with her former partner Misty May-Treanor.
"It means a lot to uphold that tradition. It wasn't easy," Ross said. "So many different countries are putting a lot of resources into their beach volleyball teams and the level is ridiculously high."
Ross was clearly the heir apparent to leading U.S. women's beach volleyball after Rio, but she needed a partner.
Ross took a chance on Klineman
She and Klineman met at a country music festival called Stagecoach in 2017 and quickly started playing together.
"In the back of my head I'm like, we should get VIP tickets for the next Stagecoach," Ross said with a laugh.
"I think people should realize what a risk April took taking me on as a partner, because when we joined together, I had less than a year of experience on the beach and I was not playing at a high level," said Klineman, who is 6-foot-5 and was a star indoor volleyball player at Stanford University.
"I think she felt how badly I wanted this," said Klineman. "She, I think, saw something in me that no one else did. And I'm just so grateful that she was kind of looking at my potential and and took that bet on me."
Ross put what Klineman did into perspective: "I think it's also a testament to Alix's work ethic. I don't think you should look at her story and say, 'Oh, it's easy to transition to a beach volleyball,' because it's really hard and a lot of people have not been able to do it."
A meaningful medals ceremony
Because of the pandemic, during medals ceremonies, athletes are presented with medals on a tray and then put them around their own neck. Ross and Klineman put the medals around each other's necks.
"I know that was a product of COVID, but it actually feels really special when you're up there," said Ross. "We get to award the medals to each other!"
The Australian team did the same. "It's one of my favorite moments, for sure," Artacho del Solar said. "It's actually a very nice touch, despite the reason we're doing it."