Two-time Olympic gold medalist, new mom and pro beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh has added yet another new role to her already busy life, becoming one of 28 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes Procter & Gamble has selected to sponsor in preparation for the 2012 Summer Games in London.
On Wednesday, the Manhattan Beach resident visited the Daniel Webster Middle School in Los Angeles to encourage youth to participate in sports and to spread word about the Team USA Youth Sports Fund.
This summer in London, Walsh will partner with Misty May-Treanor again, this time hoping their third Olympic Games in beach volleyball will yield another set of gold medals. The duo won gold medals in the 2004 Summer Games in Athens and the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.
Indeed, women’s beach volleyball has become a popular spot around the globe since its introduction in the 2004 Summer Olympics.
“Wherever we go around the world, around the country, people love volleyball, whether it’s indoor or beach,” said Walsh. “It’s a really fun time. When the Olympics come around, that’s when beach volleyball is on the biggest platform ever. That’s when we always want to capitalize and catch lightning in a bottle.”
During her whirlwind tour of L.A that included a stop at Daniel Webster Middle School, Walsh talked about the rise in popularity of beach volleyball, her role in that rise, changes being made to the Olympic version of the sport and how becoming a mom changed her approach to the game.
Walsh has enjoyed great success in volleyball. Currently, she and May-Treanor are the top women's U.S. volleyball team and are ranked No. 2 in the world FIVB [Federation Internationale de Volleyball] beach volleyball rankings.
But there are lots of contenders: teams from China, Brazil, Italy and the Netherlands are among the top 10 in the world and Walsh expects teams from Germany to contend for a medal in London. She also says fellow Team USA entrants Jen Kessy and April Ross will challenge them at the Olympics.
“They’re a huge competition for us,” Walsh said. “They’ve won a lot of tournaments. We have to go through them to win the gold medal. We respect them so much and they make us work really hard.
"At the end of the day, I wish the best for them. I hope they kick butt. I just want to beat them. I’m really proud to be on the same team with them.”
In Beijing in 2008, Walsh and May-Treanor had to beat a team from China to win the gold.
And yet, despite growing in popularity around the world, beach volleyball has taken some steps backward in the U.S., according to Walsh, who wants to turn that around.
“Beach volleyball here at home isn’t that great, even though there’s so much love for the sport,” she said. “We just need to get a stable foundation and go from there. But internationally it’s booming. It’s just a matter of time before here in the states it’ll be a mainstay. NCAA incorporated it into their program. It’s growing.”
This past Monday, the previously bankrupt and defunct Association of Volleyball Professionals announced new ownership that intends to revive a pro beach volleyball tour that in past years made routine visits to such volleyball hot spots as Manhattan Beach. Walsh and others hope that under new ownership, pro beach volleyball will have a chance to build on popularity gained during this summer's Games.
“Misty and I are a part of that [prov beach volleyball],” Walsh said. “We are very proud to be a part of that. Before we leave, we want to leave with a great tour at home and with more gold medals.”
After the Beijing Summer Games in 2008, Walsh took time off to raise the two sons she delivered within a year of each other. She says she and May-Treanor are refreshed and refocused for the London Games even though the time off from beach volleyball made her a little rusty.
“That was always my dream [taking the time to start a family],” Walsh said. “To me, it was the best gift my parents ever gave me, having a brother so close to me in age and having my two little sisters. They’re my best friends. They were growing up and they still are now. I wanted that for our family. My husband did as well, thank goodness. I am truly living my ultimate dream. Now I just need to go and win a gold medal.”
In the 2012 Summer Games, women will have the option to wear the traditional bikinis or T-shirts and shorts, a change intended to make the sport more accessible to cultures and countries that prefer female athletes wear less-revealing attire.
“I love the fact that more doors are opening to more countries and more people,” Walsh said. “Wearing T-shirts and shorts, that doesn’t affect me. I want to challenge you and I want you to challenge me and make me better. For me and my uniform and for Misty and her uniform, it won’t change a thing.”
Right now, Walsh is partnering with Procter & Gamble and Pampers to raise money through Facebook for the Team USA Youth Sports Fund [Procter & Gamble will donate $1 up to $100,000 for every visitor who likes the Facebook page]. The money raised through the Facebook campaign will go to USOC youth sports organizations across the country. Donations can be made on the Thank You Mom Facebook page.