Two-time Olympic medallist April Ross and beach volleyball partner Alix Klineman are looking like the team to beat in the women's beach volleyball competition at Tokyo 2020.
The pair from the United States are a perfect 5-0 so far and are now just two wins away from their first Olympic gold medal.
In their recent quarterfinal, Ross and Klineman took an important scalp in defending Olympic champion Laura Ludwig of Germany. Ross is now the last medallist standing in Tokyo and, thanks to their latest win, she and her partner are one step closer to glory.
For both, it would be something of a sweet achievement.
For 39-year-old Ross, Olympic gold is the final bit of silverware she is missing from her current collection. The Olympic veteran clinched silver in London 2012 and came away with a bronze in Rio 2016.
Meanwhile for Klineman, it would complete a redemption arc. Thrice the volleyballer has been denied a chance to represent Team USA in the indoor discipline.
A medal with Ross would surely silence her critics and put her Olympic demons to rest.
As they gear up to get closer to the medal zones in Tokyo, here's what else you should know about America's great volleyball power pair.
It started out with a drink
Finding a partner for beach volleyball requires quite the undertaking.
Like a game of musical chairs, securing a match at the right time is critical to competition success.
That's why it is ironic that in Klineman, Ross initially took a significant risk.
The 31-year-old had only made the leap from indoor volleyball to beach a few months prior to the two's match-up. It was a decision that came after consecutively missing out on a spot on the indoor Olympics roster.
Not wanting to give up entirely, Klineman made the call to hit the beach in hopes of keeping her Olympic dream alive.
Ross knew that heartbreak all too well.
Her own indoor national team disappointments drove her to beach back in 2006. She identified in Klineman the same fire that burned inside her all those years ago.
"We both have, you know, a drink or two and we're listening to music. And she's like, 'By the way, I'm gonna need a partner for the next Olympics.' And she looks at me."
It wasn't a decision set in stone there and then, but Klineman certainly was interested.
"I remember the next day i was like, 'Did I have too much to drink? Am I imagining this really happened?"
Fast forward four years and now the two are a very real formidable duo.
Klineman: a prizewinning volleyball player
At 1.96m tall, Klineman has all the makings of a standout volleyball player.
When basketball started to get too physical for a young Klineman growing up, the aspiring athlete decided to put all her eggs in one basket and make a full commitment to volleyball.
It was a sport that quickly saw her on the rise.
While studying at Stanford University, the star player collected four All-American titles. In 2010 she was awarded national player of the year by Volleyball Magazine and shortly after was selected for the national team. In 2011 she helped Team USA pick up a bronze medal at the 2011 Pan American Games.
Klineman's professional indoor career also saw her travel the world. She had stints in both Italy and Brazil.
Even after switching to beach Klineman soon found her efforts being recognised. In 2018 and 2019 Klineman was honoured with the Best Blocker award.
A skill of which, Ross has certainly been appreciating on the sands in Japan.
Ross: a viral pandemic sensation
Staying fit during a pandemic is no easy feat. Particularly when you're a double Olympic medallist on the hunt for gold.
With no competition taking place because of the global COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions Ross took the time to start working with video analysis among other technical improvements.
As for maintaining her physical skillsets, with beaches and courts closed, Ross created a makeshift volleyball court inside her own garden.
Getting creative, she used a board on a tree to act like a returning player.
She posted videos of herself training in a back garden and soon enough it began to accrue views and comments.
It even inspired others to copy her blueprint and replicate it in their own backyards.
Switch from indoor to beach harder than thought
Although they share similarities, beach volleyball and indoor volleyball are more like distant cousins than siblings.
This is something Klineman discovered after she changed lanes from one to the other back in 2017.
In indoor, players take up specific roles within the team; they will specialise in a certain area and dominate that position. On the sand, it's much freer and far more tactical.
All of that Klineman quickly adjusted to. What she didn't anticipate was the change in rate of fitness.
"The difference between playing indoor volleyball and beach volleyball is an accelerated heart rate of 175 beats per minute."
The challenge of the surface demands a completely different kind of fitness and strength, which took Klineman some time to realise.
Now though, Ross' partner is well-adapted.