The most decorated beach volleyball player of all time will not be part of this summer’s Tokyo Olympics.
An upset loss at a tournament in the Czech Republic on Wednesday doomed Kerri Walsh Jennings’ bid to reach her sixth Olympics at age 42.
Walsh Jennings and partner Brooke Sweat needed to finish third or better at the J&T Banka Ostrava Beach Open to keep hope alive of qualifying for Tokyo. They instead failed to even make it into the main draw, falling to unheralded Raisa Schoon and Katja Stam of the Netherlands, 21-18, 19-21, 15-12.
The early loss ensures that Walsh Jennings and Sweat cannot overtake fellow Americans Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil on the international tour point list. Claes and Sponcil clinched one of two U.S. berths in Tokyo, joining medal contenders April Ross and Alix Klineman.
"It's a terrible, terrible feeling," Walsh Jennings told the Associated Press after the match. "It's been a really rough year, and to lose in a qualifier, it feels really hard right now."
For Walsh Jennings, this could be the final act in a storied volleyball career. It started in Northern California with three state championships at Arch Bishop Mitty High and four first-team All-American awards at Stanford. Walsh Jennings then led the U.S. indoor women’s volleyball team to a fourth-place finish at the 2000 Olympics before transitioning to the beach.
Walsh Jennings and longtime partner Misty May-Treanor formed what became the most accomplished duo in beach volleyball and won gold medals at the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics. In 2004 and 2008, May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings did not drop a single set.
When May-Treanor retired in 2012, Walsh Jennings partnered with Ross. They suffered an upset loss in the semifinals at the Rio Olympics in 2016, but rallied to beat the top-ranked team in the bronze medal match.
The buildup to the Tokyo Olympics for Walsh Jennings was anything but smooth. She suffered injuries. She switched partners. She even faced backlash last year for arguing against wearing face coverings to stop the spread of the pandemic.
Even so, Walsh Jennings and Sweat were in decent shape to make the Olympics until Claes and Sponcil overtook them by winning the second-to-last international qualifier in Russia. That left Walsh Jennings needing a top-three finish this week in the Czech Republic, a feat that proved too difficult to attain.