After failing to make the indoor volleyball team for the 2016 Olympics, Alix Klineman decided she would switch her sport to beach volleyball. She explained, “I looked at the beach as a new opportunity and a chance to chase my dreams without anybody having to give me approval or put me on a roster.”
The decision has paid off: At her first-ever Olympics in Tokyo, the Jewish athlete took home gold with partner April Ross on Friday.
Seeded second in the beach volleyball tournament, the team defeated an Australia duo 21-15, 21-16. Klineman and Ross dropped only one set in the entire tournament.
“I still don’t know if I really ever expected this to come true,” said Klineman. “It feels like such a fairy tale.”
Klineman, a 31-year-old California native who attended Stanford University, was inducted into the Southern California Jewish Hall of Fame in 2015.
Ross gave Klineman the credit for helping her finally win gold and relished presenting her with the medal.
“I know that was a product of COVID, but it actually feels really special when you’re up there,” said Ross, who received her third Olympic medal from her third Olympic partner after a masked IOC official presented it on a tray because of pandemic protocols.
“I was like, ‘We get to award the medals to each other,'” said Ross, who won silver in London and bronze in Rio de Janeiro. “In my head, I was thinking, ‘Thank you, Alix.’”
They played the final in brutal conditions in 92-degree Fahrenheit (33-degree Celsius) temperatures — the US TV broadcast said it felt like 129 Fahrenheit (54 Celsius) on the sand.
Klineman, a first-time Olympian, never let her new prize out of her grasp while talking to reporters. She said she had watched individual sports, where winners put their medals around their own necks, and was excited when she realized she could do that for Ross after working four years together to get to the Olympics, and then win it all.
“I feel like we’ve both just tried to support each other and give this partnership as much as we have,” she said. “And so it was a really special moment.”
“I still can’t fathom that it worked out the way it did,” said Ross, who played with Jen Kessy in 2012 and Kerri Walsh Jennings in 2016. “It’s kind of a fairy tale story, going out there to try and get my gold medal. And the fact that it actually happened feels really special and surreal.”