Thursday, August 09, 2012

May-Treanor, Walsh Jennings Show Olympic Mettle

By Mark Whicker
The Orange County Register
August 9, 2012

Article Tab: kerri-walsh-medal-winning
At the moment of victory, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings (L) celebrates winning the gold medal.

LONDON - Beach volleyball in general, and the U.S. Olympic Committee medal-counters in particular, needed Misty May-Treanor to come back.
Beach volleyball players did not.
"I heard about it and said, 'Oh great'' ", said April Ross

This was like Michael Jordan putting aside the batting gloves and coming back to the dunking business.

There are some people who have to learn to win, and there are some others for whom winning is almost involuntary.
May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings just acted naturally Wednesday night, as Big Ben bonged in the background and Prince Harry came over to see what these jumping near-nudists were all about.
The 2004 and 2008 gold medalists each have a matched set of three, with this 21-16, 21-16 victory.
"When we won, I thought somebody was pinching me,” May-Treanor said. “This whole time has been an out-of-body experience. There's been this kind of numbness, like, oh my God, what just happened?”
Maybe she felt that way when she sized up the big picture, but when she stood in the sand she looked serene and cocooned.
It did not matter that Misty-Kerri was struggling through much of 2012, or that May-Treanor was coming off an Achilles' tear that she suffered in 2008, in her turn at “Dancing With The Stars.”
Their victory was inevitable as soon as they made the team, even though Ross and Jen Kessy, fighting their way through the barricades of their bracket, came to win.
“This is as good as I've seen them play,” Ross said. “I didn't think Misty could reach another level. But she did.”
There are taller and more arresting volleyball players out there, but May-Treanor wins, or won, because of her complete mastery. Her dad Butch played on an Olympic team, and she has the knack of digging out balls, and setting others on a nice comfy tee for Walsh to hammer home.
It's decision-making on the run, much like in basketball. She grows on you, and it will be quite interesting to see how Walsh plays with a different partner.
“Well, she's won about a thousand defender awards,” Kessy said. “And she can hit. And then Kerri is a great offensive player. So it's difficult. I thought we played very well. We just missed some opportunities and you can't do that.”
Indeed, this might have been the easiest week and a half May-Treanor and Walsh have had since 2008.
For one thing, they haven't seen much of each other. Walsh was off in 2011 to give birth to her second son, Sundance, and May-Treanor played with Nicole Branagh. When May-Treanor was rehabbing in 2009, Walsh partnered with Rachel Wacholder.
Reunited this year, they struggled through much of the international tour. But they knew they could win, and so did the teams they would beat.
“The first two Olympics, it was about the volleyball,” May-Treanor said. “This time it's been about something more, about that special bond we have with each other.”
“Our competitive journey is gone, and it crushes me a little bit,” Walsh said. “But the next stage is going to be so fun. In so many ways I'm blessed. Now we can know each other as girlfriends, spend a lot more time with each other. My sons will spend more time with ‘Auntie Turtle.' She's going to be part of my journey. It's bittersweet, but I'm proud we went out the way we went out.”
Back in Long Beach, Armando Hart was watching closely. He is a former Long Beach State sprinter, a contemporary of May-Treanor's. Now he is a fitness trainer, a spiritual adventurer, who guided Misty back from Achilles' hell.
Hart emphasized sprinting, but also biomechanics and “natural body movements.” He said May-Treanor, like most athletes, had to learn that “the ground is your friend, it takes all that downforce and gives it back to you.”
He also said May-Treanor's first goal was just to get back in physical shape, with little ambition toward world-class winning. Once she felt better, the trophy predator came out.
May-Treanor spent much of her post-match conversation heaping praise on Ross and Kessy. The silver medalists thought they could win this, and they were happy to see cameras trained on them when they walked into the stadium.
“Then somebody told us that Prince Harry was right behind us,” Kessy said.
“Well, I'm just glad he thought beach volleyball was important enough to see,” Ross said. “That's why we wore our bikinis for him.”
In truth, the Prince found himself in the presence of a California queen. It never seemed quite right for Misty May-Treanor to be dancing with stars. She calls the tune.

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