Not long after the Tokyo Olympics, the first games that Kerry Walsh Jennings missing since 1996, the legend of beach volleyball finally got on the phone.
Walsh Jennings, now 44, recruited a now 41-year-old Logan Tomher teammate at Stanford in 1999 and on the U.S. Olympic indoor volleyball team in 2000. “She’s like a sister to me,” Walsh Jennings said.
Walsh Jennings asked Tom, who played indoors at four Olympics and at club level through at least 2019, with a stint on the beach in 2006-07, if she would like to be her new partner.
“She was like, ‘Kerry, you’re bat … crazy,'” Walsh Jennings recalled Tuesday.
It took a while – Walsh Jennings called the last year-plus a “saga” – but Tom agreed to a six-week trial that took place late last year ( video here ). Their first official practice as a team was last week, Walsh Jennings said. They hope to play their first international tournament together in March, although trying to get into an event is difficult with their combined lack of ranking points.
“For my last race, I want to feel really good and really special,” Walsh Jennings said. “Logan wears this.
“She’s someone I’ve loved since I met her at Stanford, and she’s just one of my favorite teammates. She is such a champion. So the thought that we’re going to get together just makes us smile, that’s why we’re doing it.”
Walsh Jennings is the most decorated beach volleyball player in history with Olympic gold medals in 2004, 2008 and 2012. Misty May-Treanor and bronze in 2016 April Ross.
But she’s not getting high in trying to qualify as one of two U.S. beach teams for the 2024 Paris Games. At least not yet.
“Paris is on the back burner, isn’t it?” said Walsh Jennings, who last played in a tournament in June 2021. “That’s obviously out there somewhere. That would be the ultimate goal, but we’re really taking it phase by phase.”
Emails seeking comment to Tom’s address, which was used to schedule an interview in 2016, were not returned.
Qualification for the Paris Games is based on international performance between now and June 2024. For any American who wants in, it will require unseating at least one of the best young teams in the world.
Kelly Cheng and Sarah Hughes have won all four tournaments they’ve entered since coming together last fall, including a win over reigning world champions Brazil in the World Tour Finals last week. Taryn Klott and Kristen Nuss won five times between the domestic AVPs and the 2022 FIVB Internationals.
“I’m very comfortable being very far because I know we’re going to put in the time,” Walsh Jennings said. “On paper, it doesn’t make sense to do it, so late in the game, no points and everything. But I just feel like it’s in my heart, it’s in her heart, and we’re going to turn it around.”
Alix Kleinman, who won Olympic gold in Tokyo with Ross, announced last week that she was pregnant. Kleinman, 33, could return after giving birth for an Olympic run in late 2024.
Ross, 40, last competed in March before retiring before the world championships in June, where she was entered with Emily Day, with an unspecified injury. She has not announced if or when she plans to return to racing.
Walsh Jennings and her latest partner, Brook Swat, were in position to qualify for the Tokyo Games when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. After the Olympics were postponed for a year, the younger Cheng and Sarah Sponsill made a late charge and grabbed that last spot from them.
“The whole of 2021 was harder than anything in my career,” said Walsh Jennings, speaking as she promoted Firefly Recovery, which is helping her come back from the longest competitive break of her career. “I was lost. I didn’t know how to play anymore. Brooke and I were cut off, but we were trying so hard.”
In their last two tournaments, Walsh Jennings and Sweat did not win a main draw match. They were two of the three lowest finishes in Walsh Jennings’ career spanning more than 250 domestic and international events, according to BVBinfo.com.
“I wonder, ‘Is this the end?’ Am I going to literally limp out?”’ Walsh Jennings said. “In my heart and my body, it just didn’t feel right.”
Walsh Jennings could break the record for the oldest Olympic beach volleyball player since the sport debuted at the Atlanta Games in 1996. In 2024, Tom will be older than all but two previous Olympic beach volleyball players, according to Olympedia. org.
“To create that pressure and that energy around qualifying doesn’t make sense for us right now,” Walsh Jennings said, adding that her six-times surgically repaired right shoulder feels “great.” “Let’s take it one step at a time.”
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