|Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings after winning their record-setting third consecutive Olympic gold medal in London 2012.|
There have been numerous awe-inspiring Olympic achievements by athletes who were the dominating force in their sport; Eric Heiden’s speed skating five-gold medal sweep in 1980, Greg Louganis winning every diving gold medal in 1984 and 1988, and Michael Phelps’ 22 swimming medals across three games among them.
But only one women’s team in Olympic history has won three straight Olympic gold medals while maintaining the same members, and they did it wearing bikinis while ankle-deep in sand.
Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings won their third consecutive gold medal in beach volleyball at the London 2012 Olympics. In doing so, they secured their place in Olympic history as one of the most dominant teams of all time, not only in beach volleyball, but across all sports.
What follows is an appreciation of May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings’ golden three-peat by athletes who know the sport best, including beach volleyball legends Sinjin Smith, Karch Kiraly and Holly McPeak; Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist Todd Rogers; indoor volleyball Olympians and current national team members Rich Lambourne (gold medalist), Matt Anderson and Danielle Scott (two-time silver medalist); USA Volleyball beach rising stars Sara Hughes and Summer Ross; and Kerri’s husband and beach volleyball player Casey Jennings.
Find out what May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings had to say about their historic Olympic run. Read the complete story and check out the photo gallery here.
>> Do you remember the first time you saw Misty and Kerri play? What was your reaction?
“The first time I saw Kerri and Misty play, it was their first practice ever together. Misty’s mom asked if I could come over to their practice and help scrimmage, serve them balls, etc. I had known Misty for six years or so. It was the first time I saw Kerri. I thought that Kerri had a lot of courage and intensity. I was clueless since I was focused on me and thought I was just helping out a bit after I had already finished training. I’ll never forget that day!” – Casey Jennings
“The first time I saw Misty and Kerri play was at Huntington Beach and I was about nine years old. They were practicing and I could remember myself so excited to see them play because I also played beach volleyball at Huntington Beach. I was in awe watching them play because one day I knew I wanted to be like them.” – Sara Hughes
“I remember the first time I saw Misty play. She was playing with three other guys and just lighting them up. She was clearly a talent that was very far ahead of her competition. And then eventually she found the right partner. She was on the beach before Kerri was, and Kerri made the really incredible transition from being an indoor player and playing for the indoor U.S. Olympic team to, the next year after Sydney, beginning her transformation to one of the great beach volleyball players of all time. When you put two greats together, it’s a tough combination to stop.” – Karch Kiraly
>> What are Misty and Kerri like in person?
“They are very similar to how they are on the court. Kerri is super exuberant and is a very energetic person. Misty is much more subdued. However, Misty has a very mischievous sense of humor.” – Todd Rogers
“When I was 12, they came to an indoor tournament and signed balls and took pictures with all of us. Recently, Misty has taken the time to train me every now and then with her dad, Butch. They have a lot of wisdom. They never ask for anything in return. Kerri has always been extremely outgoing and friendly. She and Misty go out of their way to give advice to the up-and-comers.” – Summer Ross
“Two great young players with very different personalities. Kerri is driven and high energy, Misty is mellow but competitive. Together they were the most dominant team. Each took over when the other one struggled, which was rare. They were sometimes beatable in their early years together but became less and less beatable through 2008.” – Holly McPeak
“I actually met Misty when we were both in college and she is also from the same part of Orange County as I am, so we have known each other for quite a while. I met Kerri more recently and she is actually married to one of my college teammates, Casey Jennings. They are both very sweet and very genuine people in my opinion which makes celebrating their success, as a fan, all the more fun.” – Rich Lambourne
“I played with Kerri in the 2000 Sydney Games. She is a phenomenal player and person, really sweet but so competitive. Misty is every bit as competitive but also really funny! I was sad to see both leave the indoor game. I played only a week or so with Misty on the national team and we played in the Long Beach alumni game last year. Had a blast! The good ol’ days, getting set out of the back row.” – Danielle Scott
“Yin and yang. I believe they both are so different but the thing that sticks out the most to me is that they both believed in themselves. As they developed they believed in each other and the team.” – Casey Jennings
| Walsh Jennings (1) and May Treanor hug after winning Olympic
gold in Beijing 2008.
>> What do you think made Misty and Kerri such a successful team?
“Misty and Kerri were successful because they complemented each other so well. As a team they had no weaknesses. Both had very good all-around skills and could pass, set, and hit and then you had one of the best blockers in Kerri and defenders in Misty. That makes for a very difficult team to play against. It takes more than just their physical talents, though. Each had a big desire to win and the intangible that can’t be taught. That is the gift that only the best athletes are given at birth. Something that all athletes look to develop and many get close, but only a few can exercise it over and over at the highest level and win consistently because of it. Hard to put it into words but when you see it, you know that it exists. We have all seen it in different sports. Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Joe Montana, Babe Ruth, Michael Phelps and others.” – Sinjin Smith
“I think their determination and competitive aspects of the game make them such a successful team. They are both phenomenal athletes with great knowledge of beach volleyball. They balanced each other. Having the best defensive player on the right and the best offensive player on the left is something hard to beat.” – Sara Hughes
“First of all I think they are, individually, two of the best athletes to ever play the women's game. Of course that doesn't always equal success. I think they also both work extremely hard. They are dedicated to their craft and put in a tremendous amount of time dialing in, not only their volleyball skills, but their team chemistry. I think a genuine friendship probably didn't hurt them either.” – Rich Lambourne
“I think part of what makes them a great team is their friendship. They trust one another and know that they have each other’s back.” – Danielle Scott
“Ton of talent and a desire to win that is second to none. They complement each other on the court. Not only in a blocker/defender role but in the way they approach the game. They understand their individual roles and how that will best help the team to win.” – Todd Rogers
“Well, when you put pretty much the two best players in history together on the same team, that is a very difficult combination to stop. Their experience, their willpower, their mental strength, their ability to withstand the pressure that comes along with the expectations of winning a lot, is really admirable. Especially that third Olympics, not coming in as the favorite and having some inconsistent results, but rising to the occasion and playing their best when their best was needed. That was something to be admired, and they’ve done it so many ways. [Before] the previous Olympics, they won for a year straight. They had this shield of invincibility and no one believed they could beat them. They won 19 tournaments in a row, 112 matches in a row. But they did it in very different ways in three different Olympics, and I really admire that.” – Karch Kiraly
>> Where do you think Misty and Kerri’s accomplishment ranks in sports history?
“I think that it, for sure, should be one of the highest regarded accomplishments in the modern sports world.” – Matt Anderson
“Within the sport of volleyball, three gold medals is as good as it gets. Three is unbelievable. The thing I admire about athletes most is greatness and consistency over time, and they ooze that. I admire that a lot more than a great Olympics, but just one Olympics. To do it year after year after year is a fantastic accomplishment.” – Karch Kiraly
“It is amazing, winning three gold! They are amazing. I haven’t done a study but it must rank high, very high, in history.” – Danielle Scott
“Ranks up there with Michael Jordan's six championships. Kobe [Bryant]'s five. Phelps. I believe it’s top tier.” – Casey Jennings
“Never say never of course, but I HIGHLY doubt we'll ever see that again in our sport. To maintain that level of dominance over that period of time is absolutely unbelievable. I'm not very versed in Olympic history but I can't imagine there are many other examples in any sport of individuals and certainly not of teams accomplishing the three-peat. Therefore I would say that puts them very near the top, if not right at the top, of greatest Olympic teams of all time.” – Rich Lambourne
>> Does being an Olympian yourself give you perspective on how difficult it was to achieve?
“[Having competed in multiple Olympics] makes me admire what Misty and Kerri have done all the more. Like I said, to do it in three different ways – actually, Kerri played indoors in Sydney and Misty played on the sand in Sydney – so they both took that experience that left them without a medal and they used it in their own way to learn and to motivate. So I definitely admire their progression from the standpoint of having played in multiple Olympics myself.” – Karch Kiraly
“Definitely. I have been to the dance multiple times. It is tough getting there and even tougher winning a medal. To win three? Wow!” – Danielle Scott
“Of course it gives me an ability to grasp their accomplishment on a more realistic level. I think the average person knows that winning Olympic gold three-straight times is something very rare. I think the perspective comes from knowing how difficult it is to grind through four years of training and competition leading up to an Olympic games and then to have all that work culminate in one do or die tournament. For them to do that and come out on top three consecutive times is astonishing.” – Rich Lambourne
“As a fellow Olympian, I do know not only how difficult it is to win a single gold medal, but also how precious ones time is. How much daily effort and focus goes into being the best you can be at your sport. They played over three quadrennials and had to adapt not only their game but also their minds.” – Matt Anderson
“Not so much being a medalist [gives me perspective], but trying to defend a gold medal. It’s amazing to me that they have done it not once but twice. They had a huge bulls-eye on their backs for eight years and yet still did it. Impressive!” – Todd Rogers
>> Have Misty and Kerri had an impact on your career as an athlete?
“They have definitely created impact on my career as an athlete. I want to strive to be the best, which they have accomplished. I want to be as successful as them. I have always looked up to them. They have helped my game just by watching and learning from them.
After [Misty] won the Olympic gold in Athens there was a welcome home/congratulations party for her. I was in attendance and she let me take a picture with her. It was a special picture because she let me wear her gold medal around my neck. Ever since then I’ve wanted an Olympic gold of my own.” – Sara Hughes
Fans cheer on Misty and Kerri at the London 2012 Olympics.
>> In your view, what impact have Misty and Kerri had on the sport?
“They were the golden girls. They inspired millions of young girls, moms, dads, to the best athletes in the world. Everybody knows Misty and Kerri. Through that, they watch beach volleyball when it comes on.” – Casey Jennings
“Volleyball now has highly recognizable names, which is wonderful. People all over the world know who Misty and Kerri are, which brings visibility and notoriety to our sport. The fact that they are both great ambassadors and wonderful people is a bonus!” – Rich Lambourne
“I think that their impact on volleyball is worldwide. They have most likely influenced countless amounts of young female players to continue playing and try to make it to the next level, and also intrigued others to make the switch to volleyball from their current sport. I think they also had a great deal of influence on the addition of beach volleyball as a certified NCAA women’s sport.” – Matt Anderson
“Misty and Kerri are the biggest names in volleyball, and rightly so with the success they’ve had over three straight Olympics. There are, and should be, lots of young girls, and boys for that matter, who should want to be playing the kind of elite, high performance volleyball that they exude on the court, and have for year after year after year. They’re really good role models.” – Karch Kiraly
“Misty and Kerri are not only champions but they, unlike many others in our sport and other sports, realize the importance of giving back to their sport. Playing beach volleyball and making money at it is a gift and should be treated as something that can disappear in a flash if we don’t work hard to promote it and give back to the fans that are the reason that we are professional. Misty and Kerri get this and do what they can to hang around after events and take care of the fans and make new fans. I have seen this many times over where they fit the time into their busy schedules to sign autographs and talk to the fans. This is a critical component to making our sport successful.” – Sinjin Smith