Australia’s Nicole Laird and Mariafe Artacho del Solar eye Olympic glory
Lausanne, Switzerland, January 20, 2016 – Australia’s U23 beach volleyball world champions Nicole Laird and Mariafe Artacho del Solar will be hoping they fall on a cloud as they reach for the stars at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
The 22-year-olds are seeking to emulate mentors Kerri Pottharst and Natalie Cook’s gold medal performance at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
“If you’re goal isn’t to win a tournament, then there is no real point being there,” Laird told Fairfax Media. “It doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily likely but we’ve seen more crazy things happen, we’ve seen bigger upsets. To use an old cliché, if you reach for the stars, you’ll fall on the clouds.”
The first cloud they will be hoping to fall on will be qualifying for the Olympic Games, which requires the pair to win the upcoming Continental Cup in June. Laird believes they will pull through the do-or-die tournament, having done the same in 2014, when the pair won the gold medal at the FIVB Beach Volleyball U23 World Championships in Poland, knowing there was no other result they would be content with.
"We managed to stay pretty strong about it as a team, problem solve along the way, deal with all the pressure and the stress knowing there was nothing to fall back on," Laird recalled. "It was gold or nothing, so it was very exciting for us to know that we went into the tournament with such high expectations and we were actually able to fulfil our potential and take away the gold medal. It's actually a pretty similar approach to how we're going to have to go into the Continental Cup knowing that there is no other option."
The beach Volleyroos will get a chance to step up their preparations on home sand after NSW Premier Mike Baird confirmed that Manly beach will host the Australian Beach Volleyball Tour Finals, the inaugural Four Nations Cup, and the Asian Volleyball Confederation Beach Volleyball Championships.
The Manly Volleyfest will run from March 18-28 and will become a regular fixture over the next three years after a partnership with Destination NSW. Te pair, who started their careers on the sandy shores of the northern beach, will be hoping to ride the wave of renewed attention and support from the two weeks into the Olympics, a dream Laird has been harbouring since she was seven.
"I was about seven years old when the Sydney Olympics were on, and growing up in Sydney I had the opportunity to go to the Olympic Games and I remember it all very clearly,” Laird said.
"I played a lot of different sports when I was younger and I was pretty convinced I was going to go to the Olympics in one of them but they were all the wrong sports. I found beach volleyball and the passion for it and the second I started playing it, it (the Olympics) was the end goal for me and I know it's exactly the same for Mariafe. It is the icing on the cake, the final end point."