Going into the London Olympics, all of the U.S. Olympic Volleyball teams looked very promising. As a country we sent six teams to compete in the indoor and beach disciplines and each one had a legitimate shot at a medal. In 2012, USAV had the potential of leaving London with the largest medal haul in history.
The tournament turned out to be a mixed bag for the U.S., showing that the Olympic Games is as unpredictable as competitions come. Every single one of our teams won their respective pools and entered the elimination round in great position. Our teams did just about everything right in their preparation and execution through the first week of the games, but for the most part they were not rewarded for it. For both the men and women, London proved that the Olympic Games can be both glorious and cruel Here's how things ended up on the women's side.
We did get one storybook ending. It came in the form of three-time gold medalists Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor. After a tumultuous quad in which they spent two years apart while Kerri had two kids and Misty recovered from an Achilles injury, the two came into the Olympics after a less than stellar season on the FIVB Tour.
But Kerri and Misty proved that they are still two of the greatest champions beach volleyball had ever seen. They took it to opponent after opponent with a focus so intense that only one team managed to take even a set from them all tournament long.
Misty did what she does best, reading her opponents and scooping up just about everything they sent to her side of the net. Kerri brought her blocking game and her positive energy while setting Misty up to lead the team in attacking most of the tournament. Together they were the Kerri and Misty we remember, clicking on all cylinders and playing with a connectedness we haven’t seen from them in a while.
They rode that connection all the way to the gold medal match where they played none other than countrywomen April Ross and Jen Kessy for the very first All-American women’s Olympic final in history. Jen and April were coming off of a season in which they mostly finished fifth on the FIVB Tour, but came to London with just as much focus as the sport’s golden girls.
Kessy and Ross came into the final match undefeated as well, having won their pool by playing solid, aggressive volleyball. When they matched up with No. 1 Brazilians Larissa and Juliana in the semifinal match, some may have thought the run was over. But even after losing the first set, Jen and April continued to fight until they disrupted the Brazilians enough to take the match.
USAV could not have hoped for a better result than two of its teams facing each other in the final match. But a one-two finish in women’s beach was the only fairy tale ending London had in store for the U.S.
The No. 1 ranked USA women’s indoor squad was the favorite to win the first gold medal ever. They had the talent, they did the work, they beat everyone handily for years and they prepared for this very moment. As they stood poised to step into their place in history they hit a snag. Brazil.
This is where the mixed bag is the most mixed. London was the best chance the U.S. women have ever had to walk away with a gold medal. They were unable to do that but the team took home the silver, tying the best finish in history. No matter how badly we wanted gold for them, we must not lose sight of what was a terrific Olympic performance by the most talented team we’ve ever had.
There is much to be celebrated here, not the least of which is the fact that for the first time in history, this incredibly talented group of women has ushered in an era of USA Volleyball in which we are disappointed with silver. That is a feat in itself.