The South Bay could have been dubbed “The Home of Champions” in 2012 with many members of the National Hockey League champion Los Angeles Kings and Major League Soccer’s L.A. Galaxy residing in the area – particularly the Beach Cities.
No athletes, however, had more impact worldwide than our local Olympians who competed in the XXX Olympiad in London. Whether it was on the turf, the sand, or in water, the success of these athletes in July and August brought together a country that was politically divided during the other months of the year.
Eight athletes and coaches residing in the 11.6 square miles that make up the Beach Cites (Hermosa, Manhattan and Redondo) won 11 medals, including nine gold medals.
Of the 193 countries and 11 territories competing in the Summer Olympics, only 23 countries earned more medals than our Beach Cities heroes.
Arguably the most famous local Olympian is Manhattan Beach resident Kerri Walsh Jennings, who captured her third consecutive gold medal in beach volleyball with longtime partner Misty May-Treanor.
Redondo Beach resident Marcio Sicoli coached Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor whose 21-16, 21-16 victory over compatriots Jen Kessy and April Ross at Horse Guards Parade, ended their career together that included a 21-0 record in Olympic matches and 42-1 record in Olympic sets.
May-Treanor retired after the final Olympic match, but Walsh Jennings has her sights set on the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro with new partner Nicole Branagh of Torrance.
The London Games marked the fourth Olympic appearance for Walsh Jennings, who was a member of the fourth-place U.S. women’s indoor volleyball team in 2000.
In an illustrious career that includes most of the records in women’s beach volleyball, it’s a difficult to find something Walsh Jennings hasn’t accomplished before. Yet she managed to pull off another “first” at the Olympics, playing the gold-medal match while five weeks pregnant. She and husband Casey Jennings – also a professional beach volleyball standout – are expecting their third child in April.
“It’s such a huge honor to compete in the Olympics,” Walsh Jennings related. “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 Jennings said. “We wanted 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 Jennings’ vast Olympic experience has created many memories for the Stanford graduate. In an interview only days before she left for London, she said two events stood at the top of her list. Undoubtedly, she will add a third.
“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.”
While the American women enjoyed success in London, the U.S. men’s beach volleyball teams left disappointed.
Redondo Beach native and Hermosa Beach resident Sean Rosenthal and partner Jake Gibb were eliminated in the quarterfinals in their second straight Olympic Games. Seeded fourth, Rosenthal and Gibb entered the Olympics as the hottest team in the world after winning the FIVB Swatch World Tour.
Rosenthal and Gibb were coached by Manhattan Beach native and beach volleyball legend Mike Dodd.
Defending Olympic gold medalists Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers lost their bid for a second straight gold medal losing to Italy in round 16.
Making a splash across the pond
The boyfriend-girlfriend swimming duo of Ricky Berens (Hermosa Beach) and Rebecca Soni (Manhattan Beach) brought home five medals between them, including three golds.
Berens swam the third leg to help the United States win gold in the men’s 4×200 freestyle with teammates Conor Dwyer, Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps.
Berens won silver in the men’s 4×100 freestyle with teammates Nathan Adrian, Jimmy Feigen, Matt Grevers, Cullen Jones, Jason Lezak, Lochte and Phelps. Berens also competed in the 200 freestyle, replacing Phelps who opted out of the event to better focus on his seven other events.
“It’s great swimming those relays,” Berens said in a pre-Olympic interview with Beach magazine. “I love doing it. Those relays are probably the most fun events to be able to do at a swim meet. But I set my goals. I wanted to do something different: make two relays and make an individual race.”
Only 24 years of age, Berens unexpectedly announced his retirement from swimming after winning the gold medal.
In women’s competition, Soni added to the three medals she won four years earlier in Beijing. The 25-year-old won silver in the women’s 100m breaststroke before successfully defending her gold medal in the women’s 200m breaststroke, setting a second world record in as many days. With her win, Soni became the first female to successfully defend her title in the event.
Soni won her second gold medal of the London Games as a member of the 4×100 medley team. Soni swam the breaststroke, joining teammates Missy Franklin (back), Dana Vollmer (fly) and Allison Schmitt (free) in setting a new world record with a time of 3:52.05.
In women’s water polo, head coach Adam Krikorian, of Manhattan Beach, led the U.S. team through stiff competition, winning the gold medal with an 8-5 victory over Spain on Aug. 9.
The Americans defeated China 7-6 in the final preliminary game, held off Italy 9-6 in the quarterfinals and overcame a late game-tying goal by Australia to beat the team from down under 11-9 in overtime.
Despite having 10 members from its team that lost to Hungary in the 2008 gold-medal game, the U.S. men’s water polo team came home without any hardware.
Merrill Moses, of Palos Verdes Estates, was the starting goalkeeper for the Americans who lost to Croatia 8-2 in the quarterfinals.
The Americans enjoyed a quick start in Olympic competition, but suffered two losses in a row to conclude preliminary action.
Reserve goalkeeper Chay Lapin, who coaches the South Bay United Water Polo Club at Mira Costa High School, saw action in the final three quarters of last pool play contest after USA jumped out to a large lead in the first quarter.
Replicating Walsh Jennings’ accomplishment was Redondo Beach native Shannon Boxx, who won her third straight gold medal as a member of the U.S. women’s soccer team.
Although the 35-year-old defensive midfielder suffered a hamstring injury in the opening match, Boxx returned to the lineup playing a vital role in the team’s drive that culminated with a 2-1 victory over Japan in the gold-medal game. The win avenged a heartbreaking loss to Japan in the FIFA World Cup championship game in 2011.
“The time went by so fast,” said Boxx about her professional soccer career of over ten years. “It’s just an honor. I feel very privileged my body has let me play at this level for so long. I’m very proud of how dedicated I’ve been to staying fit.”
The leader of the U.S. squad was Hermosa Beach resident Abby Wambach, who captured her second gold medal after missing the 2008 Beijing Olympics because of injuries to her tibia and fibula.
Wambach scored five goals in six games including the first goal in a 4-2 win over France. Despite being struck in the right eye by an opposing player, she scored the second goal in the United State’s 3-0 victory over Colombia. In the semifinals, Wambach scored the game-tying third goal on a penalty kick in a controversial 4-3 win against Canada.
The 32-year-old has not slowed down since she stood on the podium in London. As of December 15, Wambach has scored 152 goals in 198 international matches, second only behind Mia Hamm (158) on USA’s all-time scoring list. Wambach and Manhattan Beach resident Alex Morgan combined for 55 goals in 2012 – tying a 21-year-old record for the most goals scored by any duo in U.S. WNT history.
“I absolutely love when I have time off and can come home to the South Bay,” Wambach said. “I always find it so relaxing to unwind, clear my head by the ocean and get ready for the next training camp. I also love the fact that I can work out in the sunshine, run on the beach or Strand at any time of day or try my luck at sports like SUP [stand up paddle] and beach volleyball. There is always certain to be good company and laughs.”
It’s been quite a year for Morgan who, at the young age of 23, was named the U.S. Soccer Female Athlete of the Year. She and Hamm are the only U.S. WNT players to record at least 20 goals and 20 assists in the same calendar year. Morgan’s 20th goal was the game-winner against Canada in the Olympics, making her only the sixth – and youngest – U.S. player to accomplish the feat in a single year.
In the London Games, Morgan scored twice against France and, in the next three games, assisted on game-winning goals including two by Wambach.
Morgan had one assist in the gold-medal match against Japan giving her three goals and a team-high four assists (tied with Megan Rapinoe) and ten points (tied with Rapinoe and Wambach).