After two and a half years of playing this sport I have now completed my first attempt at making the Olympics and though it ended in disappointment, the lessons I learned and experiences I gained are endless. We started the Olympic qualifying process this year down about one thousand points, that’s quite a lot of ground to make up and almost seemed too daunting. My partner Jen and I decided to focus on taking it one tournament at a time and one match at a time.
After three months of grueling preseason double days, we had high expectations for our first tournament in Australia, a trip to the podium and nothing less. It ended up being one of our worst finishes ever- a 17th place which is pretty much second to last place. I was pretty distraught after that and almost thought that meant we were done, but all we had done was make it harder for ourselves.
After a couple more weeks of training and some AVP tournaments we left on a nine week expedition that would take us to eight countries in eight weeks for as many tournaments. First, we ventured to Asia where we had tournaments in Japan and South Korea. It was a definite culture shock, but maybe we needed it. We came away with two fifth place finishes, beating great teams and losing narrowly to go to the semi finals. Still, that was a huge jump in points for us. After that we headed to Barcelona, Spain (one of the coolest cities I’ve ever been to) and Stare Jablonski, Poland where we netted two more fifth place finishes continually gaining on the second team we were trying to catch for that Olympic bid.
Our coach, who voluntarily coaches us, flew out to our next tournament in Berlin to help us break through the fifth place barrier into the semi finals. Thankfully, it worked and we made it to the semi’s beating a team we had never beaten before. Unfortunately, once we got to the semi’s we couldn’t capitalize on our draw against China’s first team and lost again in the bronze medal match to Brazil’s first team giving us a fourth. Still, it got us closer to the second team than a fifth place would have and going into the following tournament in Paris we were trailing Branagh/Youngs by a couple hundred points. We were having a perfectly fine tournament in the Paris Open until our draw unfolded and put us against Misty and Kerri in the quarter finals. After a well fought battle we swallowed another fifth, but we were continually gaining on the second team.
Next was Stavanger, Norway where we were the reigning gold medalists. Obviously we felt good going into that tournament, the people there remembered us from the year before when we set a record internationally by being the lowest seeded team ever to win a FIVB Grand Slam. We played great and got put in a better bracket than we did in Paris and made it all the way through until we met up AGAIN with Misty and Kerri in the semi’s this time. We played well and had chances to take the first game, but blew it (as teams do against the best team in the world). Taking heed of the lesson we learned in Berlin we went into the bronze medal match with a better focus and won this time giving us a third, which was huge as far as the points race went.
So if you have been following closely you’ll know throughout this whole time (excluding the first tournament of the year in AUS) we’d never finished lower than fifth place. All we had to do in the next tournament in Russia is do as well or better than we had done in the previous seven tournaments to close in on and possibly pass the second American team. We started out well and got a bye in the first round, then came up against a team that had just started playing on the international circuit. The team was from Brazil and they were known as a spoiler team, they had beaten several good teams including Wacholder/Turner (USA) in the Berlin qualifier so we knew what we would be up against.
We prepared as we would for any team and got really fired up for the match, but somehow we still managed to lose in two games, which hardly ever happens to us (unless we are playing May/Walsh). We were dumbfounded and in utter disbelief. We couldn’t even describe how it happened it seemed like it went so fast. And just like that in a matter of moments our Olympic fate for 2008 was determined. Over an entire two year qualifying process it came down to one hour of one day and we blew it. It’s hard to say we are disappointed in ourselves, we did better overall than we expected, it is just so heartbreaking to work that hard to get that close and then to lose it, it wasn’t taken from us, we just gave it away. If anything I can say that it was a great experience and an even greater lesson learned.
After watching the Olympics, not just the beach volleyball, but all the other sports and hearing the amazing stories that went along with them I’ve been inspired to work harder than ever before with more focus and discipline than I’ve used in the past to gear up for and qualify for the next Olympics in London. You know what they say if you fall back down, get up and try again.