An Olympic icon and dominating beach volleyball powerhouse, Kerri Walsh Jennings has changed the landscape of the sport as part of one of the greatest pairings beach volleyball has ever seen. During her Olympic career, Walsh Jennings became the most decorated beach volleyball Olympian of all time, competed in five Olympic games and earned four gold medals, all while being a mother to her three children. Outside of her Olympic appearances, the Saratoga, California native has also won three World Championship gold medals, 77 AVP tournaments and 56 international (FIVB) events.
After being a staple member of the U.S. team for the last five Olympic cycles, Walsh Jennings missed her Olympic berth to Tokyo 2020 and has come to the end of her Olympic career. Although a new generation of players will take the court, the impact the “Six Feet of Sunshine” had on the sport will continue to reach far beyond the beach.
Debuting at the 2000 Sydney Olympics
In her Olympic debut at Sydney and on the U.S. volleyball team, Walsh Jennings was only 22 and just finished her college career playing for Stanford University. She was the second college volleyball player in history to earn the first-team All-American title four years in a row and helped Stanford win the NCAA championship in 1996 and 1997.
In Sydney, Walsh Jennings and the women’s indoor team were beaten in five sets by Russia in the semifinals. After playing Brazil in the match for bronze, the Americans fell short and took fourth. Although Walsh Jennings and the rest of the team did not medal, for her first appearance in the Olympic spotlight, she was able to fine-tune her skill set and gained a larger perspective on the tactical understanding of the sport.
Winning gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics
The 2004 Olympic Games in Athens marked the beginning of Walsh Jennings' gold medal winning streak with partner Misty May-Treanor. This was Walsh Jennings’ first Olympic appearance in beach volleyball after competing in indoor volleyball in Sydney. The duo had won gold at the World Championships in 2003 and went on to become the most influential and successful team in the history of women’s beach volleyball. They remained undefeated together for 112 games.
Arriving in Athens, Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor were unbeaten in 90 matches and swept the competition at the Faliro Olympic Beach Volleyball Centre. Together they went through all seven Olympic matches without losing a single set and clinched gold by defeating Brazil's Shelda Bede and Adriana Behar 21-17, 21-11 in the final.
Winning gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics
After the Olympic games in Athens, Walsh Jennings continued her professional beach volleyball career with May-Treanor at the World Championships in 2005 and 2007. They won gold both times and were unbeatable. The women had been undefeated together for 101-matches and 18-tournaments as they stepped onto the sand in Beijing in 2008.
Prepared to defend gold for the United States, they dominated competition and defeated host country China’s No. 1-ranked team of Tian Jia and Wang Jie in two sets. At the end of Beijing, Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor had racked up their unheard-of 112-match winning streak and secured gold for the second time at the Olympics. Following the 2008 Olympic Games, Walsh Jennings competed pregnant with her first son, Joseph.
Winning gold at the 2012 London Olympics
The 2012 Olympics was the last time Walsh Jennings competed with May-Treanor on the Olympic stage. The pair won the first and second round of the tournament and their Olympic winning streak climbed to 32 consecutive sets without a single loss until they lost the first set of three to Austria’s Schwaiger sisters in the preliminary round. The duo ultimately won that match and headed to semifinals, where they were victorious over China’s Xue Chen and Zhang Xi.
In the final match, Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor won gold for the third time by defeating fellow Americans Jen Kessy and April Ross by a score of 21-16, 21-16. After winning 21 consecutive matches at the Olympics and winning gold since 2004, May-Treanor announced her retirement, leading Walsh Jennings to invite April Ross to be her new partner for the U.S. team.
Winning bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics
Achieving bronze with her new partner April Ross was Walsh Jennings’ fourth Olympic medal. At 38, medaling in Rio gave her the title of most decorated beach volleyball player of all time. The pair missed out on winning gold and went down 22-20,21-18 in the semifinal round against Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas de Freitas. This was the only defeat Walsh Jennings ever suffered in her entire Olympic beach volleyball career.
The duo finished the tournament with a three-set win over Brazil’s No. 1-ranked pair of Larissa Franca and Talita Antunes to clinch third.
Although this was the end of Walsh Jennings' Olympic career, in the first FIVB tournament following the 2016 Olympics, she won gold with Ross at the Long Beach Grand Slam, earning their fifth gold of 2016.