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Back On The Beach, April Ross And Kerri Walsh Jennings Reflect On Olympic Bronze And The American Spirit

By Sam Yip | Aug. 27, 2016, 3:30 p.m. (ET)

April Ross (L) and Kerri Walsh Jennings pose for a photo with their bronze medals at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on the Today Show set on Copacabana Beach on Aug. 18, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

LONG BEACH, Calif. – April Ross and Kerri Walsh Jennings jumping back into competitive play only a week after the Rio Olympic Games shouldn’t really surprise anyone. After all, three-time Olympic gold medalist Walsh Jennings and 2012 silver medalist Ross managed to rally to win the bronze medal after their four-year-long dream of winning gold was dashed just 24 hours prior.

Fresh off winning a thriller 2-1 to cap pool play (21-19, 18-21, 15-13) versus Brazilians Maria Antonelli and Liliane Maestrini in the FIVB Long Beach Grand Slam on Thursday, third-ranked Walsh Jennings and Ross took some time to reflect on the Rio Games.

“We always have full faith in us. If we’re losing, we shouldn’t be here. You know? It’s going to change, it’s going to change, and that’s always the mentality for us, even if it’s not happening for us,” Walsh Jennings explains. “In the semifinal match, we had the same thought process the entire time. It’s going to come; it’s going to come. It didn’t come in the semis, but it came halfway through the bronze-medal match. The biggest thing our coach (Mario Sicoli) told us before the bronze-medal match was staying connected, and we did that. We’re here, we’re here, we’re doing this. And that honestly helped.”

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Walsh Jennings has already been a part of possibly the greatest beach volleyball team of all time with retired former partner Misty May-Treanor, and she and Ross came into Rio as favorites. Despite having lost the night before in the semifinals, down one set, and 13-14 in the second set, the Americans managed to turn things around and take home the bronze medal.

“Winning the bronze-medal match will stay with me for a long time,” Ross shared. “Emotional turmoil from those two days is either going to haunt me for a while or serve a greater good. If I could get through something like that, I could get through a lot of stuff. For me, Rio was all business. Just the competing and the winning is going to stay with me for a long time.”

Former USC alumni Ross added how it was in her DNA as an American to keep fighting through adversity.

“I think that’s just the American spirit. That’s sort of how we exist as Americans. You never give up, you dig deeper. You work really hard; you fight until the end. I just think that’s what Americans do.”

That same American spirit trickled down to their fan base. The support Ross and Walsh Jennings garnered from the crowd throughout the games was present from start to finish. Even though the U.S. support may have been outnumbered by the host Brazilians, the encouragement from family, friends and fellow athletes helped the duo move forward.

“The support in person was awesome. Both April and I had a lot of family and friends there. A lot of other athletes showed up,” Walsh Jennings reflects. “Team USA (basketball) got all the attention, but other athletes showed up as well. The support from home was insane. It gives me chills to know how loved we are, when we were winning, when we lost, when we won again. It was so constant, it just escalated. And now we’re here in Long Beach, school started, and all these people are here supporting us, it’s really special.”

The 2016 Long Beach Grand Slam is held in Alamitos Beach Aug. 24-28 and concludes the 2016 FIVB World Tour regular season. With a prize pool of $800,000, each gender started with 32 main draw teams divided amongst four different pools. Twenty-four teams will make the single-elimination rounds that start on Friday and last until Sunday when the tournament concludes.

When asked if they had thought about the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Walsh Jennings quickly responded with an emphatic no. Compounded by the fact that she just finished one Olympic Games a week ago and would be nearly 42 by the next one, it was entirely logical to expect the most decorated Olympic beach volleyball player in history to take some time to consider.

Ross summed it up best as to their future as a team.  

“I know my intent is to go, but this is still part of our journey. This is post-Rio, this isn’t pre-Tokyo.”

Sam Yip is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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April Ross

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Kerri Walsh Jennings

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