Going for a gold medal in your first-ever Olympics is a difficult proposition for any athlete. Doing so when your teammate is a mainstay of the sport getting what will likely be their last chance at winning their first gold is next level.
That’s exactly what Alix Klineman is up against, though, as she and beach volleyball veteran April Ross — a two-time Olympic medalist — begin their run at the Tokyo Games. Klineman has big shoes to fill, too — Ross has previously teamed up with some of the best female players ever to hit the sand in Kerri Walsh Jennings and Jen Kessy.
In spite of the pressure, the 6-foot-5 Klineman feels like she’s living the dream.
“A month or two ago, it kind of hit me, I was like ‘Oh my God, the Olympics are just around the corner!'” Klineman told E! Online. “And so I’ve had a little bit of a ‘pinch me’ moment.”
Here is everything you need to know about Klineman…
1. Klineman’s Early Beginnings in Manhattan Beach and College Career
Alix was born in 1989 to Mike and Kathie Klineman and raised in Manhattan Beach, California. She was joined by a brother and sister as well.
As a teen, she went to Mira Costa High School, where she first starred on the volleyball court. Klineman led Mira Costa to three straight California State Championships. Along the way, she was a state and national Player of the Year. For her efforts, she received a collegiate spot with the storied Stanford Cardinal.
Over her four years at Stanford from 2007 to 2010, she was an All-Conference and All-American pick every season and led the Cardinal to two Final Fours. As a senior, she was named Volleyball Magazine’s National Player of the Year and the Pac-10 Conference Player of the Year.
2. She Initially Stuck With Indoor Volleyball
Although her parents had sent her to her first beach volleyball camp as a six-year-old and she was always around the sand, Klineman’s primary focus was always indoor volleyball.
After being a member of the USA Junior National Women’s Volleyball Team and having success, she became a training member of the Senior National Team. She also spent a number of years on the professional indoor circuit.
Due to the fact that there wasn’t an option for her to continue her career stateside, she went to Italy in 2011 to become a pro, suiting up for Volley Pesaro, Gruppo Sportivo Oratorio Villa Cortese and AGIL Volley Novara over the next four year, as noted by Volleyball Magazine. She also spent two years playing in Brazil with Praia Clube.
However, her pro volleyball dreams weren’t realized without encountering setbacks along the way.
3. A Doping Suspension Kept Her From Competing for an Extended Period
As relayed by Volleywood.net, Klineman received a 13-month suspension in 2013 when she committed an anti-doping rule violation. The disciplinary action was taken as a result of the then-23-year-old testing positive for the presence of an androgenic anabolic steroid.
Klineman’s explanation for her test results was that she had inadvertently ingested some of her mother’s DHEA supplement. It was further noted in the report that Klineman’s mother had mistakenly put her own supplements in Alix’s vitamin organizer. The volleyball star maintained that there had been no intentional effort to cheat.
In the end, the panel charged with determining her fate accepted Klineman’s explanation and considered it in determining her punishment.
4. Klineman Was Still a Newbie to Beach Volleyball When Ross Picked Her as a Partner
Klineman never really considered entering the beach volleyball fray until 2016 when she was left off of the US indoor national team. It was a major blow for a person with Olympic aspirations. So, while she could have just continued her pro career in the sport, the event prompted her to make a major change.
“There always has to be a bigger goal and it has to be something really lofty that I’m fighting for and that I believe in and I kind of thought I was just playing,” she told Volleyball Magazine.
“I started reevaluating ‘Am I OK with just playing and not having something bigger?’ The timing of it worked out, ‘You know what, I want to give this a chance.’ Something in my gut wanted to see this through.”
It wasn’t long after that Ross approached her about potentially teaming up. Just a few years later, the pair has multiple major tournament wins under their belts.
“What I really admire in Alix is her work ethic,” Ross told USA Volleyball. “She works so hard in her competitiveness. Every day, it doesn’t matter what we’re doing — if it’s just a benign drill or we’re competing — she wants to win, no matter what.”
5. She Is a Self-Proclaimed Sunscreen Expert
After growing up on the beach and, later, becoming a beach volleyball star, Klineman has seen more sun than most Americans. As a result, she considers herself an expert where sunscreen is concerned.
“I feel like I’ve hacked the whole sunscreen industry,” she told Vogue.
“I have a different sunscreen for different situations, but I’ve tested so many and I feel like I really know which ones are the best.”