Playing their final tune-up match before heading to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, the beach volleyball tandem of Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross won the silver medal Saturday at the 2016 FIVB Gstaad Major in Switzerland, falling to Brazil’s Talita Antunes and Larissa Franca 2-0 (21-18, 21-14).
It was the fifth meeting between the two teams, both of whom are favored to vie for the gold medal next month in Rio. The Brazilians now hold a 4-1 advantage in the series, including a 3-1 edge in finals.
Just earning a spot in the gold-medal match took a herculean effort from the Americans, who found themselves down a set and trailing 20-17 in their semifinal contest against Germany’s Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst, the No. 1 team in the latest world rankings. Walsh Jennings and Ross, currently No. 3 in the world, rallied to take the second set 23-21, then won the decisive third 15-11, but the competitive 54-minute contest may have left the U.S. duo with little in reserve for the final later in the day against the Brazilians, who were defending their 2015 Gstaad title and are ranked No. 7 in the world but No. 1 in the provisional Olympic rankings released June 12.
Walsh Jennings and Ross also survived a challenging road simply to make it the semifinals, twice defeating Germany’s world No. 2 tandem of Katrin Holtwick and Ilka Semmler, once in pool play and again in the quarterfinals. They fell to future U.S. Olympic teammates Brooke Sweat and Lauren Fendrick in a 2-1 pool match that took 50 minutes to complete.
Walsh Jennings enters the Rio Olympic tournament as the three-time defending champion, having won in Athens, Beijing and London with former partner Misty May-Treanor. Ross is a reigning Olympic silver medalist, having lost to Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor in the final at the London 2012 Olympic Games with Jennifer Kessy.
Since beach volleyball was introduced to the Olympic program at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, U.S. women have failed to medal only once, at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. The United States and host Brazil enter Rio with six total medals each in women’s beach volleyball, with the U.S. holding the advantage in gold medals, 3-1.