Two Australian Beach Volleyball teams will step out on the sands of Copacabana Beach this week for the Rio Grand Slam.
Both teams have high hope they’ll be straight back in Rio in August at the 2016 Olympic Games.
For one of the teams, Louise Bawden and Taliqua Clancy, their ticket to the Olympics is almost guaranteed. Something would have to go badly wrong for the pair not to get to Bawden’s third Olympics and Clancy’s first.
But for Australia’s other pair, Manly’s Nikki Laird and Mariafe Artacho del Solar, the task is much greater.
The current world U23 champions will need to win their way through the Asian Continental qualifiers in June to earn nomination to the Australian Olympic Committee.
While the Rio Grand Slam this weekend will be a good test for the pair, a fair more accurate gauge on how they’re tracking will come when they return to Manly later this month to compete in the Asian Beach Volleyball Championships.
For Bawden and Clancy, this weekend will be another valuable chance to test the conditions on the beach where they should return as genuine medal prospects in August.
Bawden and Clancy are currently ranked fifth in the world in terms of Olympic qualification. As long as they remain in the top 15 as at June 13, Australia will have at least one team in Brazil.
Bawden went to her first Olympics as a 19-year-old indoor volleyballer in Sydney in 2000, and then returned as a beach volleyballer with Becchara Palmer at the 2012 Olympics.
“There really is no comparison to be made between how I feel now and how I felt in previous Olympics,” Bawden said this week.
“My volleyball life has been a constant evolution, every experience brings different joys and challenges.
“What I can say is that I truly love being part of our team, and I am really excited for what we will achieve this year.”
Laird and del Solar will need to win their way through qualifying; March 8 - 13, to make the Rio Grand Slam main draw, while Bawden and Clancy will be the event sixth seeds.