Chemistry and union are very important attributes for beach volleyball teams and those were the trademarks of Maria Clara and Carolina Salgado during each of the 13 years in which they shared the same side of the court on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour.
The Salgado sisters formed one of the longest-lasting partnerships of international beach volleyball, remaining together between 2003 and 2015, with a quick break in 2012, when Carolina stepped away from the sand to give birth to her first son, Jose.
Beach volleyball has always been a family business for the Salgados, who for the most part of their trajectories were coached by their mother, the legendary former volleyball and beach volleyball player Isabel, and are sisters to Rio 2016 Olympian Pedro Solberg.
“We played together for 13 seasons and during most of this time our mother was our coach, so I feel very fortunate,” Maria Clara said. “We started very early and that made us go through several important moments of our lives together. I feel very lucky to have had not only a sister to play with, but also our mother, who taught us so much, to be around us every day and during our trips. It was very special.”
Maria Clara and Carolina were introduced to the sport by Isabel, who played with both of them on the Brazilian Tour at the very early stages of their careers. When their mother retired, the decision for them to play together was obvious.
What wasn’t written on the wall at the time was that the Salgado sisters would remain as partners for such a long time, becoming the second team with the most tournaments in the World Tour history at 135, trailing only another sister duo, Finnish pair Emilia and Erika Nystrom, who shared the courts in a record 157 events.
The Brazilians collected 17 World Tour medals, including two golds, and 39 more on the Brazilian National tour with six tournament victories on their home sand. But the undisputed highlight of their team was their only Grand Slam triumph, in 2013, when they downed future Olympic and world champions Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst of Germany, in Moscow.
“The Germans are great, even if they’re a new team,” Maria Clara said on that occasion. “It was a hard tournament and we needed to do our absolute best to get here. We didn’t make a lot of mistakes and that was the key. The feeling of stepping on to the top of the podium with my sister is unbelievable.”
Three years later, the sisters shared yet another memorable experience when they both became mothers. That meant missing the opportunity of trying to qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympics in their hometown, but with the family being well-represented by Pedro, they could focus on their special moment and continued working as a team off the court, as Carolina gave birth to her second son Salvador, and Maria to her first, Joaquim.
“To share this moment with Maria, it’s really special,” Carol said at the time. “My sister and I always shared every moment of our lives with each other and our kids will have the same opportunity as they will be basically the same age. We want them to grow together and to be best friends, just the way we are.”
The period off the court, however, brought new ideas and a desire for a new start for both sisters. After so many years together, it was finally time for them to go separate ways and chase their dreams with different partners.
The 33-year-old Carol had a brief spell with Juliana Felisberta before she joined forces with another Maria, Antonelli, in her attempt to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. The team had a good run, winning their second World Tour tournament together in the Hague, in 2018, but couldn’t accomplish the goal despite securing six other medals along the way. Since the start of 2020, Carol has played with three-time Olympian Talita Antunes.
Maria Clara, on the other hand, spent most of the last three years competing internationally with Elize Maia Secomandi and the team had a bronze medal in Zhongwei, China, in 2018, as their best result. At 37, the defender has focused more on national competition, spending most of her time between the Brazilian Tour and the American AVP.
After over a decade as partners, it took some time for the Brazilians to adjust to the new reality of being opponents. But, no matter what they’re competing for on the court, whenever the final whistle is blown, it all gets back to very familiar territory.
“The first time we played each other was very weird,” Maria Clara said. “We had played each other in training with our new partners before the tournament and it was awkward, but when the match started you could feel that the atmosphere was really tense. But I think we already got used to being opponents. We might have different volleyball partners now, but we’ll always be partners in life and nothing will ever stop us from cheering and supporting each other.”
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