Kerri Walsh Jennings has continued her remarkable career into a second decade of competing on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour and if she has her way, she will make it a third.
Walsh Jennings, a triple Olympic champion, is on course for a sixth Olympic Games at Tokyo 2020 following four in beach volleyball and one in volleyball and if she continues her remarkable run it will mean she will have played on the World Tour for 20 years.
The 42-year-old is currently playing alongside Brooke Sweat, who will be featuring in her second Olympic Games should they qualify.
At the moment they are fifth in the provisional FIVB Beach Volleyball Olympic Rankings which would assure them of a place in the competition that will run July 24 to August 7 at Shiokaze Park.
They have been together since October 2018 when they teamed up for the Las Vegas 4-Star. It did not take them long to win their first World Tour medals, as a week later they claimed bronze at the Chetumal 3-Star in Mexico.
Another bronze came at the Sydney 3-Star in March 2019, then a silver at the Kuala Lumpur 3-Star before they won their first gold at Jinjiang in China. By the end of the year they had another World Tour silver and bronze, as well as winning the NORCECA Championships.
While Walsh Jennings and Sweat have not played together since November 2019, they have certainly shown that they can compete for the medals at Tokyo 2020.
“The goal is to be consistently great, consistently high at all times,” Walsh Jennings said following their elimination from Chetumal.
“The physicality is there. The skills are there. The craftsmanship is there. If we put it all together, all the tools we have, we’re going to be really hard to beat.”
If they do win a medal then it would be typical of Walsh Jennings, who has shown time and again that she is a player who knows how to time her runs to the podium.
She began the 2010’s working her way back to fitness after taking time out to give birth to her second child following her second gold medal success alongside Misty May-Treanor at Beijing 2008, who had also been her partner when they won their first Olympic gold at Athens 2004.
Her two tournaments in 2010 came alongside Nicole Branagh while May-Treanor recovered from a knee injury. Typically, despite the circumstances they won gold at the Phuket Open.
By the start of 2011 May-Treanor was back on the court and in their first tournament in three years they won silver at the Brasilia Open. By the time that year’s FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships rolled into Rome they had won gold in Beijing.
In Rome they reached the final but lost to their long-time rivals Julia Felisberta and Larissa Franca of Brazil. Come London 2012 though it was Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor who finished on top of the podium, with the Brazilians claiming bronze.
They defeated compatriots April Ross and Jennifer Kessy in the London 2012 gold medal match, and with Kessy and May-Treanor retiring after the Olympics Walsh Jennings was left looking for a defensive partner.
“It feels almost like an out-of-body experience,” Walsh Jennings said. “We’ve lived so much of our lives together. This is what we did, 24-7 it seems, for all these years. But after we were apart for nearly two years, our reunion was so special, and we were more connected these last two years than the first nine years we were a team.
“Misty is the best there ever has been in this sport and it’s very sad to end this journey with her, but boy do we have some incredible memories.”
With Walsh Jennings stepping down again to give birth to her third child, she returned alongside one of her opponents from the London 2012 final, April Ross. They appeared at the Gstaad Grand Slam and then won the other two World Tour tournaments they played in in 2013.
They added gold from another four World Tour tournaments in 2014, but after winning the Long Beach Grand Slam in July they had to wait until March 2016 for their next gold, which came at the Rio de Janeiro Grand Slam.
Three gold, two silver and two bronze followed to ensure they went into the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games in confident mood and while they were stopped at the semifinal stage by reigning world champions Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas, they recovered to defeat Brazil’s Larissa Franca and Talita Antunes in the bronze medal match.
Walsh Jennings and Ross played one more tournament together and after another 10 tournaments with Branagh in 2017 and one with Kelly Claes, she made the call to Sweat.
Walsh Jennings has already started to bring through the potential that she saw in a partnership with Sweat, but she has not set any limits on what they can achieve in tandem.
“Brooke really sits in the same vein as Misty,” Walsh Jennings told NBC OlympicTalk when they announced their teaming up.
“Brooke is her own athlete and has her own assets and strengths, but largely what Misty and Brooke share in common is their inherent knowledge in the game and the fact it’s in her blood. You can just tell she gets it.
“The times I have enjoyed the most success, consistent success, that was when there was a true defender behind me, that made me a big blocker. Brooke, literally, could be the best defender in the world.”
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