The duo of April Ross and Alix Klineman entered the beach volleyball competition at the Tokyo Olympics with the look of a gold medal contender. And while their very presence at the Summer Games was a sure bet to hook American viewers, there’s definitely been something missing for Team USA.
Namely, the greatest player in the history of the sport in Kerri Walsh Jennings.
Long before Klineman made the transition from the professional indoor game to the sand and back when Ross was firmly entrenched as a member of the United States’ B-team, it was Walsh Jennings who owned the beach. Along with her legendary partner, Misty May-Treanor, Walsh Jennings was responsible for bringing the sport out of obscurity and into the mainstream.
The pair were gold medal champions at the 2004 Games in Athens, the Beijing Games in 2008, as well as the 2012 Olympics in London. Even after May-Trenor retired, Walsh Jennings teamed up with Ross to capture bronze medals at the 2016 competition in Rio.
But where is the 42-year-old now and why isn’t she competing in Tokyo? Here’s the latest on a beach volleyball icon…
A Disagreement About Their Career Path Led to a Split Between Walsh Jennings and Ross
Shortly after their bronze medal finish at the Rio Olympics, Ross and Walsh Jennings were at a crossroads. Walsh Jennings wanted to compete solely on the FIVB circuit, while Ross was angling to sign a deal with the AVP, an outfit that the former had taken issue with. In the end, Walsh Jennings stuck to her guns, effectively ending the pact.
Ross later referred to Walsh Jennings’ decision as “the final nail in the coffin” for their partnership, as relayed by NBC Sports in 2017.
There had been some discussion between the two about keeping their partnership for FIVB World Tour events, while Ross would play with a different partner in the AVP. In the end, though, the two elected to go their separate ways.
“It’s not like a negative thing, and I don’t think [Walsh Jennings] views it as a negative thing,” Ross said. “So I think we’re both excited for the future in our different ways.”
For her part, Walsh Jennings made a point to heap praise upon her former partner in the wake of the move. “I have so much love in my heart for April,” she posted on Facebook at the time. “We fall on different sides of this situation, but that does not change my high opinion of her nor can it change the amazing times we shared together.”
“April has made my life better. Period,” she added.
Walsh Jennings and Her Current Partner Missed the Olympic Cut
Walsh Jennings attempted to compete in the Olympics once again in Tokyo with her current partner, Brooke Sweat (one of the world’s best defensive players). However, things didn’t go their way in qualification.
After a tough year on the international tour, Walsh Jennings and Sweat lost a June qualifier to a team from the Netherlands in Ostrava, Czech Republic. The loss killed their ability to pass fellow Americans Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil in the standings and secure the final Olympic spot.
Although she is pulling for Team USA to dominate the competition, the fact that she isn’t part of it continues to eat at her.
“Every time I see an Olympic commercial, I kind of leave the room, which means I have some healing to do,” Walsh Jennings told USA Today recently.
“I love the Olympics. I love watching our country compete and I’m such a fan, but my heart hurts not being there. But I’m really excited for the inspiration of it all because I think we all need that in our life right now.”
Walsh Jennings is focusing on being a mother as she watches the Tokyo games, calling her children her “biggest inspirations for sure.” However, she hasn’t ruled out an Olympic comeback in 2024.
“I truly don’t know when I’ll retire but I hope to keep playing forever. Maybe not at Olympic level, but still playing. I haven’t ruled out Paris 2024,” she told The Olmypic Channel (via Olympics.com).