Sarah Sponcil Clinches Nomination to Tokyo Olympic Games
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The U.S. Beach Volleyball team of Kelly Claes and UCLA's Sarah Sponcil has clinched a nomination to the Tokyo Olympic Games, July 23-Aug. 8.
Sponcil, a two-time NCAA Beach Volleyball Champion at UCLA in 2018 and 2019, becomes the 20th all-time beach volleyball Olympian that UCLA has produced. The 20 total Olympians to come out of UCLA (male and female) are the most of any school (Stanford is second with seven) and Sponcil is the 11th Bruin woman to qualify for the Olympics, which also leads the nation (Stanford is second with seven).
UCLA has a rich Olympic tradition, which began the first year beach volleyball was introduced in the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996. That year a record seven Bruins qualified for the Olympics, which included Linda (Robertson) Hanley, Carl Henkel, Karch Kiraly (gold medalist), Bjorn Massaide, Holly McPeak, Sinjin Smith, and Kent Steffes (gold medalist). UCLA has had an Olympian in beach volleyball in six of the seven Olympic Games (includes Tokyo -- no Bruin qualified for London in 2012). All of UCLA's current coaching staff are also Olympians (Stein Metzger in Athens in 2004, and Jenny Johnson Jordan and Jose Loiola in Sydney in 2000).
Claes and Sponcil moved into an Olympic-qualifying position last weekend when they won an FIVB Beach World Tour four-star event in Sochi, Russia, their first international gold medal. That win gave them 7,120 Olympic Ranking points, 160 more than Brooke Sweat and Kerri Walsh Jennings.
Claes and Sponcil clinched an Olympic berth Wednesday when Sweat and Walsh Jennings lost in the J&T Banka Ostrava Beach Open qualifier, guaranteeing that Claes and Sponcil will finish Olympic qualifying as the second-ranked American duo in the Provisional Olympic Ranking.
Since partnering in 2019, Claes and Sponcil have earned 10 medals in 29 FIVB tournaments, including one gold, four silver and five bronze medals. In 2021, the duo has played all five four-star tournaments and has finished tied for fifth or better in four of them. They will also compete in the main draw of the J&T Banka Ostrava Beach Open, which begins Thursday (June 3).
Not far removed from college, Claes and Sponcil will become the youngest beach duo to represent the United States in the Olympic Games. They have an aggregate age of 49 years (Claes: 25 years old; Sponcil 24), and Sponcil will become the second-youngest American beach Olympian after Misty May made her Olympic debut at age 23 in Sydney 2000.
Joining the young duo in Tokyo will be Alix Klineman and April Ross, who clinched their Olympic berth earlier this year.
Olympic berths are awarded to the two highest-ranked American beach pairs in the Provisional Olympic Ranking provided they also finish among the ranking's overall top 15. Claes and Sponcil are currently sixth overall.