At the crucial qualifying event in Cairns last weekend they produced the best volleyball of their careers and their ‘YOLO’ (You Only Live Once) attitude paid off. Their selection on the 2016 Australian Olympic Team today makes their Rio dream a reality.
“It's a dream come true. It's something we've been working toward for the past four years so for it to now be a reality makes me beyond excited. It's a dream come true it's very special,” Artacho del Solar said.
Laird was also struggling to contain her excitement and knew that securing the Olympic spot while playing in Australia made it even more special.
“We were very lucky to be able to share the moment (in Cairns) with family and friends and our coaches and support staff were all there, so it was a pretty incredible moment,” Laird recalled.
They join Louise Bawden and Taliqua Clancy who were selected on the Team last month after finishing the qualification period ranked seventh and securing an automatic berth. All four girls are great friends and have played with each other before. They’ll all benefit from having two teams in Rio.
To secure Australia that second pair Laird and Artacho del Solar had to win the Asian Continental Cup tournament in Cairns, along with London Olympian Becchara Palmer and her partner Phoebe Bell.
Selection relied on Laird and Artacho del Solar, who are now based in Adelaide with the national program, to deliver the best volleyball of their lives.
“We knew that we were definitely in with a chance,” Laird said. “We knew that ultimately we would walk away from that event having achieved our goal or not, and we knew it was definitely going to be reflective of what we really put into the tournament.
“So we put a lot of words around our preparation to make sure we were in the best spot emotionally and mentally to be able to hold our composure throughout the event knowing what was on the line.
“We wanted to be fearless and present and YOLO (You Only Live Once) was one of our mottos,” Laird said with a laugh.
Artacho del Solar gave the team a nine out of ten for their performance that ultimately booked their ticket to Rio.
“In the end we took the opportunity and grabbed it. That was the best volleyball we’ve played as a team and individually as well, like Nikki said we were fearless and let’s leave this game like it’s the best game we’ve ever played.”
They are now setting new goals for Rio and looking forward to building on their preparation and confidence ahead of the Games.
“There is still plenty of room for improvement and growth for our team but we go into Rio with nothing to lose,” Artacho del Solar said.
The pair both went to Killara High School in northern Sydney and played beach on Manly Beach. They moved to Adelaide at different stages for the national beach program and started playing together in 2013. After Laird recovered from surgery that year they teamed up at the end of 2013 and have been unwavering in their determination to make their Olympic debut at Rio 2016.
In 2014 they won the under-23 World Championships and have been regulars in the main draw on the World Tour.
Artacho del Solar was born in Peru and moved to Australia when she was 11. She played indoor volleyball in Peru and focussed on beach when she moved to Australia. She will have family travelling to cheer her on from Australia and Peru. Laird will also have a large support contingent travelling to Brazil for what is sure to be one of the sporting highlights of the Games.
Beach volleyball will be held on the iconic Copacabana Beach, in a country where volleyball is second only to football in Brazilian sporting culture.