Kerri Walsh Jennings is back for one more beach volleyball run
It wasn’t long after the Tokyo Olympics, the first Games that Kerri Walsh Jennings missed since 1996, that the beach volleyball legend finally made the phone call.
Walsh Jennings, now 44, dialed now-41-year-old Logan Tom, her teammate at Stanford in 1999 and on the U.S. Olympic indoor volleyball team in 2000. “She’s like a sister,” Walsh Jennings said.
Walsh Jennings asked Tom, who played indoors at four Olympics and at the club level at least into 2019, with a beach stint in 2006-07, if she’d like to be her new partner.
“She was like, ‘Kerri, 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 tryout period 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, though trying to get into an event is tricky with their collective lack of ranking points.
“For my last go around competing, I want it to feel really good and feel really special,” Walsh Jennings said. “Logan brings that.
“She’s someone I’ve loved since I met her at Stanford, and she’s just one of my favorite teammates ever. She’s such a champion. So the thought of us getting together just makes us both smile, which is why we’re doing this.”
Walsh Jennings is the most decorated beach volleyball player in history with Olympic gold medals in 2004, 2008 and 2012 with Misty May-Treanor and bronze in 2016 with April Ross.
But she is not hyping up trying to qualify as one of two U.S. women’s beach teams for the 2024 Paris Games. At least not yet.
“Paris is in the background, right?” said Walsh Jennings, who last played a tournament in June 2021. “That’s obviously out there. That would be the ultimate goal, but we’re really taking this one phase at a time.”
Emails seeking comment to Tom’s address that was used to schedule a 2016 interview have not been returned.
Qualifying for the Paris Games is based on international results from now until June 2024. For any American looking to get in, it would require unseating at least one of the world’s top young teams.
Kelly Cheng and Sara Hughes have won all four tournaments they’ve played since teaming up last fall, including beating the reigning world champions from Brazil in last week’s World Tour Finals. Taryn Kloth and Kristen Nuss won five times between the domestic AVP and international FIVB tours in 2022.
“I’m very comfortable being a very long shot, because I know we’ll put in the time,” Walsh Jennings said. “On paper it makes no sense to do, this late in the game with no points and everything. But I just feel like it’s in my heart, it’s in her heart, and we’re gonna give it a whirl.”
Alix Klineman, who won Tokyo Olympic gold with Ross, announced last week that she is pregnant. Klineman, 33, may come back from childbirth for a late 2024 Olympic run.
Ross, 40, last competed in March, then withdrew before June’s world championships, where she was entered with Emily Day, with an unspecified injury. She has not announced if or when she plans to return to competition.
Walsh Jennings and her last partner, Brooke Sweat, were in position to qualify for the Tokyo Games when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. After the Olympics were postponed by one year, the younger Cheng and Sarah Sponcil made a late charge and grabbed that last spot from them.
“All of 2021 was tougher than anything in my career,” said Walsh Jennings, speaking while promoting Firefly Recovery, which is helping her come back after the longest competition break of her career. “I lost myself. I didn’t know how to play anymore. Brooke and I were disconnected but trying so hard.”
In their last two tournaments, Walsh Jennings and Sweat didn’t 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’m like, ‘Is this the end? Am I literally going to go out limping?’” Walsh Jennings said. “In my heart and in my body, that just didn’t feel good.”
Walsh Jennings can break the record of oldest Olympic beach volleyball player since the sport debuted at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Come 2024, Tom will be older than all but two previous Olympic beach players, according to Olympedia.org.
“To create this pressure and this energy around qualifying doesn’t make sense for us right now,” Walsh Jennings said, adding that her six-times surgically repaired right shoulder is feeling “awesome.” “Let’s just take it one step at a time.”
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