Born for beach volleyball, 200 kilometres inland
The Queensland town of Kingaroy is better known for peanuts than beach volleyball. But this small rural town located more than 200 kilometres inland is where the sport’s first indigenous Olympian, Taliqua Clancy, started out.
“I was always extremely sporty. I was always running around, running amuck, I always had a lot of energy,” Clancy says.
“I started playing soccer, that was my first organised sport. But I just remember a lot of running at school and competing in athletic carnivals and stuff. It was something that I was naturally drawn to.”
Talent was something she had in abundance, playing netball, soccer and swimming. Growing up, the 23-year-old says she wasn’t inspired by a particular athlete or role model, but when Sydney played host to the Olympics in 2000, she felt the games beckon.
“That's when I definitely knew I wanted to be an Olympian. It was just the vibe and I was so young, our family all got together to watch the Olympics on television.
"It wasn’t really a discussion I ever had with anybody, I always wanted to be a professional athlete.”
Indoor volleyball - the first step
She found her niche on the indoor volleyball court. Scouts spotted the rising star at 15 and the following year she was offered a scholarship at the Queensland Institute of Sport in Brisbane. But her path to success wasn’t easy.
As the daughter of a single mother, Clancy says she’s grateful for a family who gave her their complete support.
“I moved with my mum, me and my mum, to Brisbane. Then when I was 17 we moved to Adelaide with the national program. She moved back (to Queensland) after six months.
"My mum was always really supportive so I never knew all the challenges, how hard it was to be away from the family. I was so lucky that my mum gave me 100% support. She never held me back or said I couldn’t do anything. She made that sacrifice for me.”
Finding her on-court partner - a match made in Adelaide
In Adelaide, Clancy’s pursuit of the Olympic dream led her to trade the indoor court for the beach, with Australia posting stronger results on the sand. It was here she first came across the woman who would ultimately become her on court partner – three time Olympic veteran, Louise Bawden.
“She moved down to Adelaide at a similar time to me, but I was a junior athlete and her travel schedule was a lot more demanding than mine. So we knew each other but we weren’t close and we weren’t really friends at all.”
All that changed after the London Olympics. Bawden had returned from her third games and coaches put the two together to see what they could do.
“We both saw the potential of how successful our team could be,” Clancy says. “I feel pretty fortunate that Lou, because of all the things she’s done in her career, saw that talent in me as well.”
Clancy attributes their success to strong common goals and similar ideas on training. In addition, physically the pair combine to create a formidable partnership.
“We’re both quite tall, both six foot. We’re both very athletic people and I think we saw how our game and athleticism can be really competitive on the world tour.”
They were seeded seventh after qualification, leading to direct entry into the games. As for weaknesses, you won’t find many on court but they’re probably not the best travel companions.
“Lou and I have missed a few planes together. Once we missed our flight to Rio de Janeiro from Dubai. We weren’t aware you had to be at the gate 90 minutes before and were both just sitting in the lounge. We ended up running to the gate, our coach was on the plane and we could see our luggage getting taken off. It wasn’t our finest moment.”
Her first Olympic Games
As long as she gets to Brazil, the 23-year old will be competing in her first Olympic games. She says the support of her veteran partner has helped minimise nerves before the opening ceremony.
“I feel pretty good, it’s really great that Lou has been there before. It’s her third Olympics and we’ve been talking about it ever since we started partnering together. I feel like she’s really helping me and supporting me through this whole journey so I actually feel quite prepared for it.”
As the first Indigenous beach volleyball player to make the Olympic squad, she’s won’t just be representing her country but is also hoping to inspire young Aboriginal athletes.
“I’m extremely proud that I get the opportunity to represent my culture. I’m very proud to be Aboriginal and it’s just something that’s a really special part of me. I love that it gives me the opportunity to be a role model.
"I think that’s a really rewarding part of sport and I’m so lucky to be where I am, where I get to represent my country and represent my culture.
"It feels like sport gives you no limitations, just the limitations you put on yourself. It can take you anywhere.”
Anywhere could include a top three finish. Rivals, Brazil, are their team to beat, but there’s not much to separate the top ten.
“Brazil will obviously be one of the most competitive. They’ve always had great teams and we always seem to clash with Larissa (Franca) and Talita (Atunes). Me and Lou know how good we can be and how successful, so I feel really confident we can get on the podium.”
As for training, intensive speed, agility and conditioning sessions are all part of Clancy’s regime, but there’s one item she won’t go on the sand without.
“I always have my visor. It’s just something that I do. Night games - I have my visor on. I wouldn’t say it’s a luck thing but it’s definitely part of my routine.”
The games take place in Rio between August 5th and 21st.