Kerri Walsh Jennings Could Become Second-Greatest American Olympian Ever
*** Written By ESPN 99.1's Christian Zylstra
Michael Phelps is the greatest Olympian of all-time, and there’s really no disputing that fact. 23 gold medals and 28 medals overall in 30 Olympic Finals makes Phelps the most decorated Olympian in history, and it isn’t even close.
All these gold medals Phelps and the other American athletes are winning have me wondering who could be considered the second-greatest American Olympian ever.
My money is on Kerri Walsh Jennings.
Let’s start with the fact she’s already won three gold medals. From Athens 2004 to Beijing 2008 to London 2012, Walsh Jennings has been at the top of the beach volleyball game.
Her previous three gold medals were won with Misty May-Treanor; this time around in Rio, Walsh Jennings has a new partner in April Ross.
With the new teammate meant a switch in playing sides. Walsh Jennings used to always play on the left side with May-Treanor, but to accommodate Ross, Walsh Jennings made the move to the right side of the court. This forced Walsh Jennings to relearn her footwork and adjust her tendencies.
Along with the move comes an unmatched level of toughness. Walsh Jennings has had five shoulder surgeries in her volleyball-playing career, including two shoulder dislocations last summer alone.
But Walsh Jennings has fought through more than pain in her volleyball career. In 2012, she won Olympic gold in London while five weeks pregnant.
No volleyball player, indoor or beach, has ever won four gold medals in the Summer Olympics. Walsh Jennings has the chance to become the first this week, along with becoming the oldest beach volleyball champion ever (she turned 38 on August 15).
Within the game itself, Walsh Jennings is as dominate as it gets. She has never lost a match in her Olympic career, now a perfect 26-0 after a quarterfinal win on August 14. Take that one step further: Walsh Jennings has lost TWO sets in her Olympic career. She’s won 52 sets and lost two.
Nobody can match Phelps’ Olympic medal total or his domination in the pool. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find another athlete who dominates his or her sport on the world stage like Kerri Walsh Jennings.