RIO DE JANEIRO – There was one beach volleyball first that Kerri Walsh Jennings hoped to never experience.
Her first Olympic loss.
Walsh Jennings’ undefeated streak in four Olympic Games came to an abrupt end early Wednesday morning, and so did her quest for an unprecedented fourth gold medal.
Walsh Jennings and partner April Ross fell to Brazilian duo Agatha and Barbara, the reigning world champions, in straight sets in the semifinals of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on Copacabana Beach.
“Terrible feeling,” Walsh Jennings said.
“Good answer,” said Ross.
In three Olympic Games with partner Misty May-Treanor, Walsh Jennings was 21-0, and she and Ross had won five matches in Rio before the semifinal in front of a full house at the 12,000-seat Beach Volleyball Arena.
The place was rocking under a nearly full moon and with waves crashing outside the stadium. Most of the crowd wore yellow and green, but there were pockets of fans waving U.S. flags.
“They outplayed us pretty much in every way,” Walsh Jennings said. “Not out-hustled us, not out-hearted us, not out-teamworked us, but they outplayed us.
“We could squash that team and we have in the past. I say that with so much respect for them. They’re very very good. Tonight they rose to the occasion. I certainly did not. There’s no excuse for it. It’s just terrible execution.”
Walsh Jennings and Ross entered the Games seeded No. 3 while Agatha and Barbara were No. 2.
They’ll compete for the bronze medal against against the other home crowd favorites, Larissa and Talita – Brazilian beach volleyball players are identified solely by their first names – Wednesday night.
Agatha and Barbara will play top-seeded Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst of Germany for the gold that Walsh Jennings has called her own for 12 years.
“We had so many opportunities to take the match into our hands and do what we came to do, and we didn’t do that,” Ross said. “And that is the hardest thing to swallow. They played really well and they played really well on (defense), got some great digs, kept some rallies going, but we had so many opportunities and I know it’s going to kill me to watch that.
“They were just sharper on their execution.”
Although Ludwig called the boisterous crowd “kind of a third player on the court” for the Brazilians and said they were not always fair, Ross and Walsh Jennings said they didn’t hear any booing, just enthusiasm.
“It just felt like a highly energized crowd cheering for their team,” Ross said.
They had plenty to cheer as the Brazilians made fewer unforced errors and won the longer points. They won the first set 22-20 and the second 21-18.
Although the Americans stayed close, and even led 18-16 in the first set, they then shanked the ball or gave away a point.
Walsh Jennings admitted that she played “rocky.”
“You’ve got to pass the ball to win matches,” she said, noting that the Brazilians scored aces on her. “That’s unacceptable and inexcusable It’s really, really disappointing and heartbreaking to not do that tonight.
“That was what kind of what set the tone and we never got our mojo on anything else.”
Agatha and Barbara picked on her with their serves. “As they should,” said Walsh Jennings. “If you see weakness, you go after it.”
She said they will reset by getting a good night’s sleep, watching some film and just playing ball.
The last time she and Ross played for an Olympic medal they were on opposite sides of the net.
Walsh Jennings won the gold medal at the London 2012 Games with partner May-Treanor while Ross and partner Jennifer Kessy took the silver.
While shaking hands at the net four years ago, Walsh Jennings – who knew May-Treanor was retiring – said to Ross, “Let’s win gold in Rio.”
Now they’ve had to downgrade their goal to a bronze.
“It’s our final now,” said Ross, noting that she expected Larissa and Talita, who have a 4-1 career edge over Walsh Jennings and Ross, to be just as ticked off about not playing for the gold.
“They’ll fight tooth and nail, so we’re going to have to show up and play better than we did tonight,” Ross said.
Walsh Jennings, who turned 38 on Monday, hopes to avoid placing fourth like she did in 2000, when she played on the U.S. Olympic indoor volleyball team.
Asked if she’ll play in another Olympics, she said, “I know I can. I don’t know if I will. I want to fix my match and I want to go home with a bronze medal and then we’ll see.”