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It has been a challenging yet successful season for Anouk Verge-Depre and Joana Heidrich. The Swiss beach volleyball pair went through highs and lows, but in the end, they managed to fulfil a childhood dream of theirs, to take their place on an Olympic podium.

Anouk and Joana teamed up in 2017 and rapidly made their mark, winning silver at their third FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour event together, a 3-star in The Hague. They earned another silver the following year, at the 2018 Itapema 4-star, and their first World Tour gold came towards the end of their 2019 season, at the Moscow 4-star, one of the last major international tournaments before the coronavirus pandemic struck.

During the pandemic-ridden 2020 season Verge-Depre and Heidrich did well in all three major competitions they were able to participate in, claiming the CEV European Championship title in Jurmala, a Baden 1-star World Tour silver and a fourth place at the King of the Court event in Utrecht.

They were very motivated when top-level World Tour action resumed in 2021. Joana, however, tested positive for the coronavirus and the team missed the first two tournaments in Cancun. When they came in for the third one, they did not make the top 16, but two Tour stops later Anouk and Joana were on the podium again, with an Ostrava 4-star silver.

Tokyo 2020 was the second Olympics for each of the two members of the Swiss pair, but their first as a team. After winning their first two matches at Shiokaze Park, Verge-Depre and Heidrich lost to world champions Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan of Canada to finish pool runners-up. They went on to claim tie-breaker victories over Swiss compatriots Tanja Huberli and Nina Betschart and Brazil’s Ana Patricia Ramos and Rebecca Cavalcanti to make the last four.

Anouk and Joana conceded to champions-to-be April Ross and Alix Klineman of USA in the semifinal, but then recovered with a straight-set win over Latvia’s Tina Graudina and Anastasija Kravcenoka to snatch the bronze, only the second medal a European women’s duo has ever won in Olympic beach volleyball history. At September’s CEV Volleyball Gala annual awards, the European Volleyball Confederation named Verge-Depre and Heidrich 2021 Queens of the Beach.

“It has been a very challenging year for us athletes to continue work and stay focused during a pandemic. We had to adapt to a lot of new situations, stay strong and positive to be able to perform,” 29-year-old Anouk Verge-Depre told Volleyball World at the end of the 2021 season. “I am super proud of our whole team, how we managed to be honest with each other, stick together and trust each other. The period around Joana suffering Covid was the most difficult this year.

“The medal at the Olympics was a childhood dream come true! My most emotional moment was receiving the medal on the podium. I wish to thank everyone who helped me personally and our team to achieve this goal! It‘s still crazy when I think about it!”

“This season had many highs and lows for me,” 30-year-old Joana Heidrich added. “But at the most important tournament at the Olympics we were able to bring everything together. We put everything into it and fought for every point. And we were able to fulfil a childhood dream with this medal. The feeling was simply indescribable. I know it goes two levels better, but now we have three years to work towards that goal...”