It seems appropriate that in 2012 — the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education – a woman would be the South Bay’s most recognizable Olympian.
Manhattan Beach resident and beach volleyball superstar Kerri Walsh will be making her fourth appearance in an Olympic career that began in 2000 when she was a member of the fourth-place U.S. women’s indoor volleyball team in Sydney, Australia.
After the 2000 Games, Walsh turned her focus to the beach game and eventually joined forces with former Long Beach State All-American Misty May-Treanor.
The duo was instrumental in bringing the spotlight to Olympic beach volleyball when they captured the gold medal in 2004 in Athens, Greece. Earning the title “Golden Girls,” the pair was awarded endorsement contracts and television exposure making them household names even outside the volleyball community.
Playing domestically and abroad on the Federation Internationale de Volleyball circuit, Walsh and May-Treanor continued their dominance in the sport, reeling off a record-setting 112 match winning streak that ended in August 2008, but not before they won their second Olympic gold medal in Beijing, China.
Their victory, coupled with a gold-medal winning performance by Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers, marked the first time the men’s and women’s Olympic gold medals in beach volleyball were won by teams from the same country.
Winning a second straight Olympic gold medal changed the lives of Walsh and May-Treanor in more ways than one.
Walsh and her husband, pro beach volleyball star Casey Jennings, decided to begin a family. Similar to her hard shots and devastating blocks at the net, Walsh’s timing was perfect.
Joey, now 3, was conceived shortly after Walsh’s competition in Beijing and her second son, Sundance, was born less than a year later. The young blond-haired siblings will undoubtedly get plenty of air time when NBC Sports broadcasts what is officially known as the XXX Olympiad from London, England beginning July 27 and ending August 12.
Walsh also underwent shoulder surgery during her hiatus, giving her time to recover before her march toward Olympic gold.
May-Treanor, meanwhile, began her off season after the 2008 Olympics with a goal of winning the Mirror Ball, an award given to the top couple on television’s hit show Dancing With The Stars. Unfortunately, a ruptured Achilles tendon during a practice session kept May-Treanor in a lengthy rehabilitation process preventing her from spending time not only in the ballroom, but on the sand courts of the sport she loves.
Walsh, 33, and May-Treanor, who will turn 35 during the Olympic Games, rejoined forces last year in preparation for a run at an unprecedented third gold medal in beach volleyball.
The time away from the game set the team back a bit, but Walsh is confident of their chances for a third gold medal.
“We’re feeling really good right now,” Walsh said. “We continue to get stronger and sharpen our skills. We are working hard on our mental preparation. The mental aspect was the hardest to get back. Physically, our bodies know what to do. We went through a lot of life changing experiences and I believe we lost some of our competitive edge. We need to keep feeding positive thoughts into our heads.”
Walsh and May-Treanor are ranked third in the FIVB Olympic rankings, one spot ahead of the United States’ second qualifying team of Jennifer Kessy, 34, and April Ross, 30.
The Brazilian team of Larissa Franca and Juliana Felisberta Da Silva is ranked No. 1 followed by the 2008 silver medalists from China, Xi Chang and Chen Xue.
Walsh feels the road to the podium is wide open and noted the recent performances of German and Italian teams.
“Everybody is a challenger,” Walsh exclaimed. “From 1-24, there are very good teams. We’re not overlooking anyone. The parity is strong in beach volleyball, which is great for the sport. But we’re going to beat them all.”
When Walsh and May-Treanor reunited in 2011, they also picked up a new coach who has plenty of experience in international competition.
Marcio Sicoli is a Redondo Beach resident who not only is an assistant coach for the Pepperdine Women’s Volleyball team, but was an assistant coach for the Brazilian women’s team who captured a silver medal in the 2004 Olympic Games.
He has served as the head coach for women’s beach volleyball legend Holly McPeak along with the AVP women’s beach volleyball team of Tatiana Minello and Carrie Dodd and as coach of the men’s beach team of Matt Fuerbringer and Jennings.
“I have respected Marcio for many years, even though he is younger than we are,” Walsh quipped.
Walsh is excited about competing in her fourth Olympic Games and doesn’t rule out a fifth appearance in 2016, most likely with another partner.
“It’s such a huge honor to compete in the Olympics,” Walsh said. “Words cannot explain how much it means to represent the USA, which I consider the best country in the world. I’m thankful to have the opportunity to chase a dream.”
She stressed the importance of playing in the London Games.
“I love Misty with all my heart,” Walsh said. “We want this (3rd gold medal) so bad. Not just for us, but for our service men and women, our families and everyone who has supported us over the years.”
Walsh’s vast Olympic experience has created many memories for the Stanford graduate, with two standing even at the top of her list.
“In Athens, my brother (Marte) dragged me up to the grandstands to be with my family,” Walsh recalled. “Misty joined us and we all started chanting U-S-A, U-S-A. I still get goose bumps thinking about it.
“Then, standing on top of the podium in Beijing hugging Misty. It was such a profound moment and one I hope to replicate.”