Kerri Walsh Jennings

Kerri Walsh Jennings on her Super Bowl commercial, toughest loss and brain games

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Three-time Olympic beach volleyball champion Kerri Walsh Jennings prepared in the last week to begin practicing with partner April Ross for the new season, the year-before-the-Olympics season.

Walsh Jennings, 36, and Ross, 32, performed well in their first full year together in 2014, winning four of 10 FIVB World Tour events that they entered.

Walsh Jennings returned to playing following the retirement of longtime partner, Misty May-Treanor, after the London Olympics, and the birth of her third child, Scout, on April 6, 2013.

In 2014, only one pair bettered Walsh Jennings and Ross’ record. Brazilians Larissa and Talita won four of their six FIVB World Tour events after teaming up midway through the year.

Walsh Jennings and Ross haven’t played Larissa and Talita. The two teams are the early favorites with the World Championships in the Netherlands on the horizon this summer.

Walsh Jennings hopes she’s physically and mentally better prepared this season. She described last year as “playing catch-up,” frustrated by a pelvic stress fracture, a knee injury and other aches and pains.

She also continued her brain training, working with sports psychologist Mike Gervais. She plays games on her iPad while wearing a headset at home, flying an airplane or shooting free throws with her brain.

“It reads your brain frequencies, alpha waves,” Walsh Jennings said of the Versus program, which boasts several athlete users, including MLB outfielder Carlos Quentin, tennis player Mike Bryan and retired swimmer Eric Shanteau. “If I’m focusing too much, [the plane] is going to crash. If I’m too relaxed, it’s going to crash.”

OlympicTalk covered more topics in a phone interview with Walsh Jennings while she was on an Asics photo shoot.

OlympicTalk: In 2004, before your first Olympics with May-Treanor, you said, “We’re a bitch to play.” How close are you to being able to say that with Ross?

Walsh Jennings: We’re definitely getting there. There were some tournaments last year where we were people’s worst nightmares. That’s what we’re working towards. At the beginning of last season, (our coach) Marcio (Sicoli) would say, outlast. Weather the storm. Then he would say, be the storm. Create havoc for the other team. … I can’t say we’re a bitch to play right now.

OlympicTalk: Who is the best team in the world right now?

Walsh Jennings: April and I. Larissa and Talita have been amazing, have a great record.

OlympicTalk: You and April played with keys looped through necklaces last season labeled “breathe” and “dream.” Will you keep playing with them?

Walsh Jennings: Yeah. My husband dipped mine in gold (for my birthday). It’s in my jewelry closet. It will be on the road with us, without a doubt.

I always need breath. When I’m breathing, I’m always doing good. Especially in tough times. Last year, I gave April a dream. I said, April, when you think of us playing and competing and getting to Rio, don’t put any boundaries on us.

(Fellow player) Brittany Hochevar introduced me to (The) Giving Keys. When you meet somebody who means what your key means more than you, you give it to them. So we’re going to graduate from the keys that we have. My husband (fellow player Casey Jennings) has “gratitude.” His partner has “fearless.”

OlympicTalk: You were in a Super Bowl commercial with May-Treanor in 2004. What do you remember about it?

Walsh Jennings: That it was freezing. We shot it first in Malibu with a huge snow machine, surrounded with foam. We were all bloody after the shoot (as the video shows briefly). The next day, we went to Bear Mountain (a California ski resort) a couple hours away, super early in the morning, and it was freezing, literally, like 30 degrees. We wore parkas, ear muffs and hand warmers. We stripped down, played a couple rallies, they got what they wanted, and we dressed back up. Actually, when I was warming my hands up, my gloves caught fire.

OlympicTalk: You’re undefeated in Olympic beach volleyball, but what’s the toughest loss you’ve taken in any sport at any level?

Walsh Jennings: Senior year at Stanford, national championship game. The worst game of my career. We had an amazing season and made it into the finals. All of us fell apart. I certainly did. We played Penn State and got manhandled (15-2, 15-10, 15-7).

(Editor’s addition: “Obviously we were missing all night,” Walsh told the San Jose Mercury News in 1999. “We’ve played like this in the past, but not this bad, and always we snapped back. I just kept waiting for us to snap back tonight, and we didn’t.”)

Another really tough loss was losing the 2011 World Championships, up by two points, had match point and we lost to Larissa and Juliana.

(Editor’s addition: Walsh Jennings said in 2012 that loss “is under my skin,” while May-Treanor remembered watching the Brazilians’ celebratory screams, group hugs and autographing video cameras like tennis players, calling it “over the top.”)

OlympicTalk: After switching from indoor to beach following the Sydney Olympics, have you ever considered playing indoor again?

Walsh Jennings: There were times early in my beach career where I didn’t know if I could do it. But once I determined I was up for the challenge, I never thought about going back (to indoor).

I left indoor with a broken heart. I was so happy to find something that I loved. If I loved it (indoor), I think I would be great at it. I think I probably would have retired before now though. I’ve had four shoulder surgeries.

(Editor’s addition: Walsh Jennings’ “broken heart” from indoor was the result of a nightmare Sydney 2000 Olympic experience. She was notified of a failed drug test before her first match and had to sit out until being able to prove that it was a false positive. Walsh Jennings returned to play, but the U.S. lost in the bronze-medal match. Walsh Jennings believes her parents still have the letter she received informing her of the positive test.)

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Six months to Tokyo Paralympics: Ten athletes to watch

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Ten Paralympic hopefuls to watch, six months out from the Tokyo Games Opening Ceremony on Aug. 25 …

Chuck Aoki (Rugby)
The U.S.’ top scorer, but still looking for a Paralympic title after bronze and silver medals in 2012 and 2016. Aoki’s father’s family is from Japan, immigrating to the U.S. in the early 1900s. His great-grandparents and grandparents were placed in World War II internment camps. Aoki switched from wheelchair basketball to rugby after seeing the 2005 Oscar-nominated documentary “Murderball.” He has been on the national team since 2009.

Shingo Kunieda (Tennis)
Japan is known for its tennis players (Naomi OsakaKei Nishikori), but Kunieda is by far the most accomplished. He owns a wheelchair record 23 Grand Slam singles titles, 21 Grand Slam doubles titles and three Paralympic gold medals. Japan earned 24 medals at the Rio Paralympics, but they were all silver or bronze.

Oksana Masters (Cycling)
Already a Paralympic rowing and Nordic skiing medalist, Masters bids for a second Games to add a road cycling medal to her haul. In Rio, she placed fourth in the road race and fifth in the time trial. At her last Paralympics in PyeongChang, Masters came back from a fractured right elbow to earn five medals, including two golds.

Evan Medell (Taekwondo)
The U.S. has a medal contender in taekwondo, which debuted as an Olympic medal sport in 2000 and is on the Paralympic program for the first time in Tokyo. Medell, a 22-year-old licensed diesel mechanic, is ranked No. 1 in the world in the K44 +75kg division after 2019 titles at the European and Parapan American Championships.

Morteza Mehrzad (Volleyball)
Iran dominates men’s sitting volleyball. None of its players were more noticeable in Rio than the 8-foot, 1-inch Mehrzad, who led the team in scoring in the gold-medal match. Mehrzad was also part of Iran’s 2018 World title team, a signal that he could return for another Paralympics in Tokyo.

Becca Meyers (Swimming)
Earned three golds and one silver in individual events at the Rio Games, plus broke three world records. Meyers followed that with medals across three different strokes (plus the individual medley) between the 2017 and 2019 World Championships. She has trained at both the North Baltimore Aquatic Club and the Nation’s Capital Swim Club, which produced Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky, respectively.

Becca Murray (Basketball)
The leading scorer on the U.S.’ Rio Paralympic champion team returned to the program in 2019 after two years away. Murray, who debuted at the Paralympics in 2008 at age 18 (and earned gold), looks to help the U.S. women bounce back from a 2018 World Championship sixth-place finish without her.

Daniel Romanchuk (Track and Field)
Eliminated in the heats of all his Rio Paralympic events as an 18-year-old. Now Romanchuk is a marathon superstar, winning the wheelchair division in Boston, Chicago, London and New York City in 2019. The University of Illinois product is expected to enter a range of distances in Tokyo, given he lowered 800m and 5000m world records on the track in his classification.

Allysa Seely (Triathlon)
Led a U.S. medals sweep in her classification in triathlon’s Paralympic debut in Rio. Followed with world championships medals in 2017 (silver), 2018 (gold in an undefeated season) and 2019 (silver).

Ben Thompson (Archery)
Upset the world No. 1 compound archer to win the world title in 2019. Ended the season with a No. 1 world ranking and Male Paralympic Athlete of the Year from the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee. Thompson competed in recent years with sister-in-law Megan‘s name on his arrow wraps. Megan fought breast cancer for years before her death in November as he was en route to the Team USA Awards.

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MORE: Memorable Paralympic moments from 2010s decade

2020 World Track Cycling Championships TV, live stream schedule

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The world track cycling championships offer an Olympic preview, live on NBC Sports Gold and also airing on Olympic Channel this week.

All five daily sessions, beginning Wednesday, stream live for NBC Sports Gold “Cycling Pass” subscribers. Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA airs same-day delayed TV broadcasts.

The U.S. contingent is led by Chloé Dygert, a world champion on the track and the road who is trying to make the Olympic team in both disciplines. Dygert already qualified for Tokyo by winning the world title in the road time trial in September.

On the track, Dygert swept individual and team pursuit titles in 2017 and 2018 but missed last year’s worlds after a May 2018 concussion. She was part of the 2016 U.S. Olympic silver medal team pursuit squad in Rio.

The U.S. has yet to win an Olympic women’s track cycling title. The individual pursuit is not on the Olympic program, but Dygert could anchor a potent team pursuit. The U.S. finished seventh without Dygert and the late Kelly Catlin at the 2019 Worlds.

The international field is led by married British couple Jason and Laura Kenny, who own 10 combined Olympic titles.

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Day Time (ET) Key Events Network
Wednesday 12:20 p.m. Team sprints NBC Sports Gold | STREAM
8 p.m.* Olympic Channel | STREAM
Thursday 12:20 p.m. Team pursuits NBC Sports Gold | STREAM
8 p.m.* Olympic Channel | STREAM
Friday 12:20 p.m. Women’s sprint, omnium NBC Sports Gold | STREAM
10:30 p.m.* Olympic Channel | STREAM
Saturday 10:20 a.m. Women’s madison NBC Sports Gold | STREAM
5 p.m.* Olympic Channel | STREAM
Sunday 7:50 a.m. Women’s keirin NBC Sports Gold | STREAM
5 p.m.* Olympic Channel | STREAM

*Delayed broadcast