The wait is over for Kerri Walsh Jennings: the three-time Olympic gold medalist and her new partner, 2016 Olympian Brooke Sweat, topped the podium at the FIVB 4-star event Sunday in Jinjiang, China, giving Walsh Jennings her first major international victory since 2016.
“It’s been so long,” Walsh Jennings said following the match. “It just feels good. It feels good to play well as a team, it feels good to improve, it feels so good to finish on top.”
Walsh Jennings, 40, now owns 56 major wins, while Sweat, 33, who missed much of last year due to shoulder surgery, notched the first of her career. Sunday’s 2-0 (21-17, 21-19) gold medal victory against No. 7 Mariafe Artacho del Solar and Taliqua Clancy of Australia was a win in more ways than one for Walsh Jennings, who aspires to play in Tokyo next summer in what would be her sixth Olympic appearance.
Walsh Jennings and Sweat teamed up in October, and this is their fourth medal in eight events together. At 40 years old, Walsh Jennings becomes the oldest woman to win a gold medal on the FIVB World Tour.
After defeating teammates Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil 21-13, 23-21 in the third round of the main draw – Walsh Jennings’ 700th FIVB World Tour match victory – Walsh Jennings and Sweat got past Brazil’s Agatha Bednarczuk and Eduarda Santos Lisboa 21-19, 19-21, 15-13 on Saturday to advance to the gold-medal match. It was a poignant moment for Walsh Jennings, since Bednarczuk and former partner Barbara Seixas handed Walsh Jennings the only major Olympic defeat of her career in the women’s semifinals in Rio. Walsh Jennings and then-partner April Ross rallied to win bronze to go with Walsh Jennings’ three previous Olympic golds with Misty May-Treanor. Walsh Jennings started her Olympic career by playing indoor at the Olympic Games Sydney 2000.
In addition to the gold medal, it puts Walsh Jennings and Sweat in pole position for one of Team USA’s two berths to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. A pair’s best 12 finishes on the international circuit earn them qualification points, and the top two U.S. women’s pairs will book their tickets to Tokyo next summer.
Though it’s still early days – who makes the Olympic team won’t be determined until next spring – in eight appearances together, including a silver-medal finish at the 3-star tournament stop in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on May 4, Walsh Jennings and Sweat have accumulated 3,900 points, while Ross and Alix Klineman sit second, having tallied 3,240 in five events.
Should she make it to Tokyo, Walsh Jennings, a mother of three, will become the oldest women’s Olympic beach volleyball player in history.
On the men’s side in Jinjiang, Team USA’s Trevor Crabb and Tri Bourne dropped the bronze-medal match 2-0 (17-21, 10-21) to George Souto Maior Wanderley and Andre Loyola Stein of Brazil. Norway’s Anders Mol and Christian Sorum conquered Brazil’s Evandro Goncalves Oliviera Junior and Bruno Oscar Schmidt 2-0 in the gold-medal match.