Staged in London’s best venue—just an errant spike away from 10 Downing Street—and buoyed by London’s rowdiest, most well-lubricated crowd, beach volleyball has quickly become the darling discipline of the 2012 Olympic Games.
And for that plumb place in the Olympic universe, the sport can thank Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor.
The American duo has won each of the last two Olympic beach volleyball titles and become the sport's most celebrated stars during its rise to prominence. In London, the pair goes for one final gold medal and a place alongside the greatest Olympians of all-time.
Walsh, 33, a proud member of Team Kellogg’s, stopped by with B/R to reflect on her career and the Olympic task at hand.
1.) As I understand it, you and Misty had a face-to-face conversation before the 2011 season to decide if you were going to go for a third Olympic gold. What was the single most important thing said in that conversation?
We had that conversation because Misty had decided that she was going to retire and changed her mind. I had committed to an amazing athlete in Nicole Branagh and I had to go back on my commitment if I was going to stay with Misty.
The biggest thing I got from that conversation was: A) That we love each other; B) That what we have is more special than I can put it into words for you; and C) That she wanted it.
That’s all I needed to hear from her that day—that she was in it full bore, 120 percent, like she has always been. Once I heard that, I knew that we could make history.
2.) Having gone to the Summer Games three times already, who’s the most interesting fellow Olympian you’ve met outside your sport?
One of my favorite athletes is Julie Foudy—soccer player, played with Mia Hamm, who’s another one of my favorites. Julie is a Stanford grad like myself and she’s a brilliant woman. She’s very smart, she’s an amazing athlete and she’s really funny. She’s been someone I’ve really enjoyed getting to know throughout the years.
Other than that, I think my partner tops them all. Misty is the quirkiest, most lovable woman I’ve ever met in my life and she’s also my favorite Olympian.
3.) Lots of athletes, especially taller athletes, feel uncomfortable about their bodies growing up. Did you have any insecurity about your height when you were younger?
No, absolutely not. My father is 6’8” and I have a brother who is 11 months older than me and we always wanted to be giants. We wanted to be just like our dad. I hit my growth spurt late—later in high school—so I was never tall enough.
That being said, now that I’ve matured and obviously hit puberty I actually have reservations about my body. I also appreciate my body because it allows me to compete at the highest levels and it has given me two beautiful baby boys. But it is tough to look in the mirror sometimes.
4.) You have a boy named Sundance, and I read that he is indeed named after the title character from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. How’d you decide on the name?
My husband grew up in Vegas and he grew up on Westerns. Redford and Paul Newman are two of his favorite actors and he grew up with that movie.
The character is such a great character and it means a lot to my husband and therefore it means a lot to me…We don’t want our son to be a bank robber or any of that. But we want him to be an individual—to have that fire and passion.
So it sounds like it was his idea and then he sold you on it.
Absolutely. I didn’t think I could do it at first. But I saw how much it meant to my husband which made me fall in love with it. If my son goes through some ridicule because people don’t like his name we’re going to teach him to be so proud—that this means something. It wasn’t some trivial thing.
5.) Beach volleyball will be held smack dab in the middle of London, near the Prime Minister’s house. Clearly, the sport has gone big time. I know athletes don’t like to get all sentimental and reflective, but you have to feel some sense of pride knowing that you helped carry the sport to this level.
Oh, absolutely! I cherish the fact that I’m a role model. I cherish the fact that Misty and I have helped grow this sport…I do. I get very sentimental. I am proud of that fact. There’s so much more room for this sport to grow and I’m hoping to be a part of it forever.