It ended the way it should have. Misty May-Traenor and Kerri Walsh Jennings standing atop the podium, hands held, and legacies linked forever.
With their third straight gold medal, May-Traenor and Walsh Jennings pushed their legendary run deeper into beach volleyball lore. No duo has ever won back-to-back gold medals, let alone three-peat.
All the drama Misty and Kerri provided – the early deficits, the long rallies, and the late-game ties – never hindered their dominance. In Olympic play, they were 21-0 in matches and 42-1 in sets
Even as their ages creeped into the mid-30’s and their fitness diminished, Kerri and Misty’s best run may have come in London 2012.
But it was almost what didn’t happen that made it so.
After the 2008 Olympics, May-Traenor mulled retirement and Walsh Jennings started a family.
A few months later, May-Traenor tore her left Achilles while participating in Dancing with the Stars. She would need 18 months to recover. Walsh Jennings meanwhile had two children in the next two years, and gained 36 pounds each time.
May-Traenor returned near the end of 2010 and with a new partner, but the duo struggled to find success. Trying to come to terms with the newfound disappointment, May-Traenor sat out the beginning of the 2011 season contemplating her beach volleyball future. Walsh Jennings returned in early 2011 and joined with a new partner as well.
But in the spring of 2011, the tides started to shift. May-Traenor sent Walsh Jennings an email expressing her desire to continue playing, and preferably with Kerri.
So the two met for lunch, and Kerri wanted to know if Misty was all in? She was, and the road to London began.
The time apart seemed to sharpen their connection and teamwork. In Athens and Beijing, Misty and Kerri dominated their opponents with power and ease. In London though, they grinded out wins as a team, rather than two great individual volleyball players like before.
Misty was the immovable rock. It seemed no ball could get past the veteran digging of May-Traenor. With her arm speed decreasing at age 35, Misty relied more on her uncanny precision to place the ball in the perfect spot. The savvy line shot? She got it. The back corner shot to demoralize the opposition? She got that too. The tip shot perfectly placed in between the blocker and the digger? Yep, she even hit that.
Kerri was the unstoppable force. She provided the finishing blow, and the powering spikes to complement Misty’s precise hits. The presence of Walsh Jennings’ block forced teams into the angle shot, and straight to the reliable digging of May-Traenor.
Though London 2012 saw Misty and Kerri’s typical winning ways, it has been a different journey this time around for the two.
“The first two gold medals it was more about volleyball,” May-Treanor said. “The friendship we had was there, but it was volleyball, volleyball, volleyball. This was so much more about the friendship, the togetherness, the journey — and volleyball was just a small part of it.’