Aussie Accomplishment Adventure
It’s taken almost four years for her to reach a position where she can make another run at Olympic glory in beach volleyball. Heck, it took her about a decade just to get there in the first place.
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“My first time on the beach was a disaster,” Bawden said, laughing as she recalled that day in Melbourne, Australia. “I couldn’t take a step without falling over, I got sunburned, and it was really windy. The sand is quite gritty so it hurt to fall down, which I was doing a lot of, and the ball was flying everywhere and I said ‘Never again.’ So I focused on indoor for a good 10 years.”
Well, Bawden reached the Olympics when they arrived in Sydney in 2000, when her country’s indoor team competed. But when 2009 rolled around, she spied the beach game, stuck to it this time, and reached the London 2012 Olympics.
With partner Becchara Palmer, they lost three consecutive matches and crashed out. But as Bawden has learned her entire life, patience can not only be a virtue, it’s a must.
“Australia is a long way from everywhere, it really is,” Bawden said. “You just have to accept it. It’s part of our lifestyle.”
Now, at 34, Bawden and her new partner Taliqua Clancy are making a long story short.
They’ve been so strong since teaming up in 2013, they’re a good bet to reach the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. They’ve been piling up points like crazy on the FIVB World Tour and by advancing to the quarterfinals in this week’s Vitoria Open in Brazil, they’re among the top five teams in provisional Olympic qualifying.
Not bad considering that in their globe-trotting efforts over the past year, their coaches estimated they spent the equivalent of 11 full days just in flying time. Put it this way: when they leave Brazil to return to Australia through Santiago, Chile, the departure day is Monday and they’ll be home in time for lunch.
In addition, she and Clancy, 23, have had to shrink their generation gap in order to have the full communication and chemistry required to give Olympic gold a run.
“It’s actually not very hard,” Bawden said. “We don’t speak the same Snapchat language, that’s for sure, I’m way behind on that that one. But when it comes to our actual mutual space and our team environment, we put a lot of work into identifying and specifying what we’re about. We have agreed values and focus areas for our team.
Right from the word go, before we even agreed to make a go of this Olympic cycle, there were things we had a lot of similarities about. We had a common vision of the kind of team we wanted to be on and the kind of athletes we wanted to be in the world. I wouldn’t say it’s easy. But when you have a real common vision, a lot of other differences, whether it’s age or personal preferences or person styles, they really take a back seat.”
Bawden and Clancy are playing in their 33rd FIVB event together. They have yet to win, but they have nine top-5 finishes. It would surprise no one if they make some major breakthroughs in 2016.
At the same time, they’re trying their best to urge their country to become more involved in the sport. Australia has a major opportunity for beach volleyball to be a showcase since the sport has been added to the Aussie-hosted Commonwealth Games in 2018.
“It’s an honour and a great opportunity when you are an athlete to get to represent your country and really help people identify with what your nation is about,” Bawden said. “That’s something I’ve always been proud of.”
And their famous patience will dwindle as the World Tour points become more and valuable as the year moves along.
“When Moscow comes around (in May), it’s going to be a lot of competition and really fast and really close to the Olympic Games so you want to be on your business,” Bawden said. “That’s the time we’re going to be able to really lock down and focus on our team stuff and keep our energy.”