Names: Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor
Sport: Beach Volleyball
Hometown: Santa Clara, Calif. (Walsh Jennings); Los Angeles, Calif. (May-Treanor)
Ages: Walsh Jennings is 33, May-Treanor turned 35 on Monday.
Why you should care about them: Why should you care about a usually mostly naked, always practically unbeatable beach volleyball team gearing up to win its third gold in as many Olympics? A team trying to overcome injuries to achieve one last dramatic triumph for the good guys, in bikinis*, on sand, at a point when you're likely to be watching anyway? Do I need to paint you a fucking picture?
*Should London's weather cooperate. It's been temperamental so far, forcing some teams to don those shirts you see above.
Well, I'm going to regardless: May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings are among the most dominant athletes of their generation. They went 33-0 in 2003, and 112-0 in 2007 and 2008 alone, and were pretty darn good in between. That second streak included a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics; the first preceded a gold in Athens. They ran the table in tournaments large and small for nearly a decade, and in the process became the faces of a sport that only joined the Olympics in 1996.
Coming off that run of dominance, they lost two matches in a row just after the 2008 Olympics—an emotional letdown after winning gold in Beijing, perhaps—and then came disaster: May-Treanor ruptured her Achilles tendon while rehearsing for Dancing with the Stars. Said Misty of the injury, "I just took a step back in the jive, and I heard a pop, I thought, you know—it felt like somebody hit me with a baseball bat."
That's why you never take a step back in the jive.
May-Treanor made a vow, probably to herself, but also to the camera in this poorly lit YouTube video: "This doesn't mean that I'm out of it. I'm going to get surgery, rehab, and come back even stronger."
Did she make good on that promise? It's been frustratingly hard to say so far. The injury rehab meant missing a full year of competition. Kerri Walsh Jennings—conveniently—used that down time to give birth. Then Walsh Jennings—inconveniently—got pregnant again right when May-Treanor was fully rehabbed and ready to return. May-Treanor teamed up with a different partner (Nicole Branagh) for a little, but then dropped out of competition altogether, informally retiring and turning her attention to other pursuits. Then, when Walsh Jennings was back from giving birth and ready to go, she teamed up with a different partner (also Nicole Branagh) and they started training together on the assumption that May-Treanor was out of the game. Then May-Treanor came out of retirement and asked Walsh Jennings to reunite. She agreed, and subsequently dropped Nicole Branagh, who presumably hates Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor more than anything right now.
Since then, May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings have had precious little time to compete as a unit and reestablish their chemistry. (They've been seeing a sports psychologist—"marriage counseling," they call it—to speed up the process.) Going into London, the Greatest Beach Volleyball Team Of All Time was seeded third—third—behind Brazil and China, a position they aren't used to. It's an open question whether they can get all the way back to the top of the heap. The preliminary rounds finished up Thursday, with May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings having bested Great Britain, the Czech Republic, and Austria to move into the round of 16, which began on Friday. Losing this year—they play against a Dutch pair tonight (2 p.m. Eastern)—won't diminish Misty and Kerri's past accomplishments, but winning would mean some extra validation for the only public faces beach volleyball has ever really had.
Olympic/world championship experience: Walsh Jennings (then just Walsh) played indoor, boring volleyball in 2000 at the Sydney games, where the team did not medal. May-Treanor also briefly played on the US national indoor volleyball team but quit, more or less because it was boring. May-Treanor (then just May) formed a beach volleyball team with Holly McPeak before the 2000 Sydney Olympics, but they finished fifth. The year after Sydney, May and Walsh finally found each other (and the beach): in 2001, the pair competed together on the FIVB tour for the first time, and in 2002 they won a FIVB tour championship. That win would mark the beginning of a reign of terror on the AVP and FIVB tours that may well never be matched. They won gold medals in both Athens and Beijing.
Sexy pose threat level:
Previous sexy poses:
Olympic archetypes: Maverick and Goose.
Scouting reports from home country:
Eleanor Barkhorn, The Atlantic:
The sport's clearest appeal is in the fact that the American women's beach volleyball team is excellent. Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor won gold at the last two Olympics, and they've never lost a set (let alone a match) at the Games. The streak has continued at the Olympics this year: They've won their first two preliminary matches, against Australia and the Czech Republic, pretty easily. Watching them play, it's easy to see why. Walsh and May-Treanor are in fantastic shape, of course, but the sport is about more than athleticism. It involves strategy and teamwork, which Walsh and May-Treanor have mastered.
Scouting report from some guy on the internet:
YouTube commenter rdcvgr88:
OMG! Misty FUCKING May, I swear I've never wanted a woman's ass this bad. I would so eat that sweaty, hot ass right after she's done playing a full game of volleyball, my mouth would all up in that ass crack! Are you fuckin' shittin' me? At age 22, you think i'll be able to control myself? fuck outta here LOL Hormones won't let me! She'd get tossed all day everyday! UGHHHHHHHH (sigh of relief)
Did you know? Its own paragraph in the "Personal" section of Keri Walsh Jennings' Wikipedia page:
"She is close friends with Misty May-Treanor."
Odd. Also, May-Treanor is married to Dodgers backup backstop Matt Treanor, who is 36 years old and hitting .203/.286/.342 but is somehow on a major league roster.
Forecast for 2012: The round of 16 ends today. They play the quarterfinals on Sunday, and the semifinals and gold medal match on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, respectively. This event seems genuinely up in the air, with a shake-up at the top a possibility for the first time since 2000. Viewers will be divided between rooting for the American team and just rooting for good weather.
Relevant Bob Costas facial expression:
For a handy master schedule of every Olympic event, click here.