No secret to Walsh's birthday wish

Martin Rogers

BEIJING – Kerri Walsh listened to her friends and family serenade her with "Happy Birthday," told her parents she loved them, then pushed a tiny sliver of chocolate cake into her mouth.

Walsh may be the fittest athlete in women's beach volleyball and dominate the sport with partner Misty May-Treanor, but she still wasn't going to take any chances the night before a big match.

"I've got to wear a bikini tomorrow," Walsh, now 30, whispered to a friend. "I love the cake, but I can only have a little bit."

Little more than 12 hours later on Sunday, the Walsh/May-Treanor combination was on the court at the Chaoyang Park Beach Volleyball ground in the Olympic quarterfinals. Their opponents, Ana Paula Connelly and Larissa Franca of Brazil, are one of the leading duos in the world, but the Americans swatted them aside comfortably in winning 21-18, 21-15.

It left the feeling that Walsh could have stuffed her face with a fridge full of cakes and the result wouldn't have been any different. Even so, Walsh is prepared to take no chances. Having won gold with May-Treanor in Athens four years ago, she is in no mood to allow a craving for chocolate to get in the way of adding another.

Relaxed as she looked at Saturday night's birthday party, thrown for her by sponsors Lenovo, she told Yahoo! Sports how she and May-Treanor are starting to feel the weight of great expectations.

"There is a lot of pressure for us because this is the one that means everything," Walsh said. "We have had more success than we could have ever wished for, but that won't mean anything if we don't come home with gold.

"The pressure is going to be there every game we play at these Olympics, and we have to respond to it in the right way. We need to use it to help us kick some butt and not to make us nervous and affect us negatively."

Since teaming up for the first time eight years ago, Walsh and May-Treanor have enjoyed a spectacular run of success.

Tuesday's semifinal will mark exactly 12 months since they last lost a match, a defeat against fellow Americans Elaine Youngs and Nicole Branagh in Boston. The win streak now stands at 106 matches and 18 tournaments and shows no sign of ending.

Yet nothing, not even birthday celebrations, is allowed to detract from the attempt to make it 108 in 19 events to earn a second Olympic gold medal.

"In some ways, I feel incredibly lucky that I get to turn 30 at such a special event like the Olympic Games," Walsh said. "It truly has been a magical experience.

"It is amazing for me to have so many friends and family here to support me and to share my birthday with me. But as an athlete you have to make sure that your performance comes first, so I can't let the fun get out of control."

"It is actually nice to be able to switch off for a bit and concentrate on enjoying Kerri's birthday," said May-Treanor, who is married to Florida Marlins catcher Matt Treanor. "We will make sure we are totally focused when the time comes to compete."

Despite a determined effort on Sunday, the Brazilians didn’t have a serious chance of pulling what would have been one of the Beijing Games' major upsets. In fact, so far the biggest scare for Walsh and May-Treanor has not been caused by an opponent.

During a game earlier in the tournament, Walsh's wedding band came loose and flew off her finger. Despite a frantic search, the ring wasn't immediately found, leaving Walsh to break the bad news to husband Casey Jennings. The piece of jewelry was eventually recovered by a stadium official.

Walsh made no secret of the fact that she and Jennings, whom she wed in 2005, would like to start a family. However, motherhood won't interrupt her time on the professional tour.

"I truly feel that because of our line of work we are blessed: We can be together and take the kids on the road with us," Walsh said. "(Starting a family) is something we are definitely thinking about."

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