The greatest partnership in beach volleyball history might have lost its way but not its belief. Kerri Walsh, the 6-foot-3 power hitter from Saratoga, Calif., insists the brand name she has established with partner Misty May-Treanor is strong, with the London Olympics three weeks away.
“Now it is up to us to go and show that,” Walsh said recently.
As Walsh said, it hasn’t been all “roses and rainbows.”
But now the once-indomitable duo has a chance this weekend to rediscover the magic that led them to consecutive Olympic titles in 2004 and ’08. They have reunited for a farewell tour they hope ends with another stardust memory on the sands of London.
They won’t enter the Olympic tournament at the Horse Guards Parade Ground as favorites. They are ranked third behind No. 1 Larissa Franca and Juliana Silva of Brazil and No. 2 Xue Chen and Zhang Xi of China. American rivals April Ross and Jennifer Kessy are fourth.
“You kind of lose your way,” said Walsh, a star at Archbishop Mitty High-San Jose and Stanford. “We lost the essence together. So the next couple weeks are getting back to who we are and who we were from the start.”
It hasn’t been easy. Walsh and husband Casey Jennings, also a professional beach player, saw the birth of two boys since the 2008 Beijing Games. May-Treanor, 34, ruptured an Achilles tendon while training for “Dancing With the Stars” and retired.
Walsh found another partner in Nicole Branagh of Orinda. But when May-Treanor decided to return, Walsh dumped Branagh — not unusual in the musical chairs nature of beach volleyball.
“It’s Misty,” Walsh said. “She makes the world spin.”
But for much of the season it has spun out of control. The partners enlisted the services of a sports psychologist to help them navigate their final campaign together. May-Treanor said she’ll retire for good after London, whereas Walsh wants to go for a fifth Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
Their sessions sound more like couples therapy than lessons on how to improve mental toughness.
“You don’t have time to sugarcoat anything,” Walsh said. “We’re sick of playing like this. And we’re both determined to fix it. So it is going to be fixed.”
Walsh, 33, played with the Olympic indoor team that finished fourth in 2000 before joining May-Treanor on the beach. After 12 years together, the partners know each other well. And yet the couch sessions have unearthed raw feelings.
“It’s to the soul of who we are and what we want to be in life — not just athletes but as the women we want to be and mothers we want to be,” Walsh said.
She added that losing this year has felt like an essential part of their journey to London.
“But at this point in time it’s inhibiting it a bit,” Walsh said. “I feel like we’re so close to magic. It’s right around the corner.”