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2015-07-09 10:06:00 CET

Kerri Walsh Jennings back on the road to Rio – via Gstaad

Among all the high-profile players at the Gstaad Major, none will be more closely followed than the woman who is perhaps the best beach volleyball player in history, Kerri Walsh Jennings of the USA, who returns to the FIVB World Tour after recovering from injury. She and her partner April Ross are making their Swatch Major Series debut, and, as always, they’ve come to win.

Having earned the last three consecutive Olympic gold medals in women’s beach volleyball, as well as 50 FIVB World Tour gold medals, Kerri Walsh Jennings is recognizable worldwide – and not only for her winning ways. With an unfailingly positive attitude, good sportsmanship and dedication to her young family, the Californian known as “Six Feet of Sunshine“ has been a role model for people around the world. So her absence from the competitive scene has been acutely felt since she suffered a dislocated shoulder in May.

Photocredit: Stefan Moertl / BeachmajorsPhotocredit: Stefan Moertl / Beachmajors

With April Ross, her partner since 2013, Walsh Jennings returned to action at the end of June in the FIVB World Championships, where she made it into the Round of 16 despite not yet being able to unleash the intimidating power of her arm. She now jumps back into World Tour play at the Gstaad Major, July 7-12. It’s her initial appearance in the new Swatch Major Series, but far from her first experience in Gstaad.

I love everything about Gstaad,“ says Walsh Jennings. The resort town was the scene of her first-ever World Tour podium (a bronze in 2001), and in 2007 hosted one of her three World Championship triumphs. “The setting is so amazing, and we’ve developed friendships here. Everything is beautiful and fresh, and it reminds me of heaven.“

The athlete is also fond of the trophy traditionally presented to winners in Gstaad: a replica of the handcrafted bells that grace the necks of the iconic Swiss cows. “To be honest, I have no idea how many times I’ve won a cowbell; I only know that it’s not enough!“ Walsh Jennings laughs. “It’s my favorite trophy on tour – the whole award ceremony is wonderful.“

But with three adored children at home and career accomplishments that have made her one of the all-time greats in sport (plus a shoulder that’s already had four surgeries), it takes more than awards to keep Walsh Jennings on the competitive scene. As it turns out, she loves to learn as much as she loves to win.

Photocredit: Andreas LangreiterPhotocredit: Andreas Langreiter

“I want to get better. I want to see what my best is,“ she comments. “And I want to do that against the best in the world on the biggest stage in beach volleyball – the Rio Olympics in 2016. The journey it takes just to get to the Olympics is so humbling and inspiring.“

With Olympic points on offer – 800 for the winner alone – the Gstaad Major could be an important part of that journey. Walsh Jennings and Ross won both of their initial matches on Wednesday, holding promise that they’ll be able to advance through their pool to the Round of 16.

I’m just so happy to be here. I went from thinking I needed surgery to working so hard to be out here in four weeks, which is unheard of. So I’m really, really very pleased,” Walsh Jennings said on Center Court. “I want to win this tournament, and to do that we need to play consistently good volleyball. We need to take it day by day, match by match.”