Taliqua Clancy (AUS)

Taliqua Clancy didn’t necessarily want to, as she said, “toot our own horn,” but sometimes a player must come to terms with the fact that she is in the Olympic semifinals, and maybe it’s time to acknowledge that getting there might mean that “we are one of the best teams in the world,” the Australian blocker said. “Everybody is, that’s why it’s the Olympics.”

Now Clancy and her partner, Mariafe Artacho Del Solar, are in the Olympic semifinals, pushing for Australia’s first medal at an Olympic Games since Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst claimed gold in the 2000 Sydney Games.

Getting to those semifinals was no easy feat, either. It required pool play victories over Italy’s top duo of Marta Menegatti and Viktoria Orsi Toth, as well as Russia’s No. 1 team, Svetlana Kholomina and Nadezda Makroguzova. But even in sweeping pool, the Australians received no gift of a draw, lining up an early bout with defending world champions Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan in the quarterfinals, a match that could have taken place in the gold medal round as easy as it did the quarters. But that’s the nature of the Olympic beast: you must be on top of your game at all times, and the Australians have been, entering the semifinals as one of two unbeaten teams in the Olympic Games thus far, the other being Americans April Ross and Alix Klineman.

“It was disappointing we went up against the girls (Canada) in such an early stage of the tournament,” Artacho Del Solar said. “We have such a great relationship with the girls. We knew it was going to be a gold medal type of match, and we had to come out strong and stay really aggressive. And I am just happy we pulled it out.”

In pulling it out, Artacho Del Solar and Clancy moved into the semifinals, where they will meet Latvian Cinderellas Tina Graudina and Anastasija Kravcenoka, who have been making history virtually every step of this Olympic journey. In qualifying, they became the first Latvian women’s team to compete in an Olympic Games, and now they are, of course, the first Latvian women’s team to be contending for a medal.

The response from Latvia, which is becoming a beach-volleyball crazed country, has been huge. The passion for the sport has been swelling for more than a decade now, thanks in large part to the monumental efforts of Aleksandrs Samoilovs, Janis Smedins, and Martins Plavins and Edgars Tocs, who have shocked the beach volleyball world in making the semifinals on the men’s side, taking out both Brazilian teams in the process.

“We have many people who work very hard - coaches and athletes. We want it, we are very motivated, we work hard. We just believe in ourselves that we can do it because we are a proud nation. I have goosebumps right now. I couldn't imagine that both teams, men and women, would get into the semifinals. It’s amazing. Of course, we believe that we can fight for a medal, but like, both teams, it's just incredible, and I'm really proud of our team.” Anastasija Kravcenoka, Latvian defender

History continued to be made with the results of the other two quarterfinals as well. With Anouk Verge-Depre and Joana Heidrich upsetting Brazil, and Ross and Klineman defeating Germany, Tokyo became the first Olympics in history with four different countries in the women's semifinals. Throughout this Olympic quad, players have continued to note the growing depth and parity on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour, and in the semifinals, it will be on display for all the world to see: four teams from four different countries with four drastically different styles of play.

“We were talking about it earlier: the field is so strong and there have been a lot of upsets,” said Ross, who is in her third Olympic Games and is seeking to become the first woman to win a medal of every color. “We just go into every match ready to battle. I think you have to earn it every step of the way. It’s not like, ‘Oh I have a medal, I know how to do it,’ we have to fight really hard. The competition is so high. We are stoked to still be in, being in the semis is amazing.”