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2011-10-20

Misty May: on the track of the third gold medal

Beach Volleyball player talks about the evolution of the sport and the importance of competing with high-level adversaries

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(Photo: ©Getty Images/Jamie Squire)

At 34 years old, Misty May-Treanor seems to know better than anyone that her worst opponents are the ones she doesn’t know. The Beach Volleyball player, born in the cradle of the sport – California – knows that the way that leads to the gold is full of adversaries. In her case, female adversaries, the best women’s doubles in the world, with which she learns to improve herself at every new match.

Misty May played her first Volleyball tournament when she was eight years old. She has dedicated the next fourteen years to improving herself in the covered court version of the sport. But Volleyball has grown to such a huge scale and was demanding so much from the athletes that Misty, who has join the USA National Volleyball team in 1999, thought it was better to go outdoors. Then, she decided to start playing Beach Volleyball that same year. She teamed with Holly McPeak and disputed her first FIVB (International Volleyball Federation) tournament in Salvador, Brazil. They decided they wouldn’t play together anymore in 2000, after they have ended up in the fifth place in the Sydney Olympic Games.

But it was with Kerri Walsh that Misty May has breathed fresh air and flied to the highest place of the podium. Since 2001, the double has dominated both FIVB and AVP (American Volleyball Professionals) tournaments. They also won the gold medal in the last Olympic Games, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008.

Misty, that had a complete recovery from a knee torn PCL (posterior cruciate ligament) in 2002, knows that the moment of glory always arrives. She knows that, to achieve the gold medal, you need to learn from the adversities and, above all, from the adversaries.

Check out the interview with the current Olympic Beach Volleyball twice-champion.

Walsh/May-Treanor will participate in the third edition of the Olympic Games and will have the chance to win the third gold medal. The double is appointed as the best in history. What does it mean to be the “best in history”?

That is very flattering to be called the "best in history" but I like to think that we are still learning and growing as players. It does mean a lot but fortunately I had what I considered the best players to learn from (Adriana, Shelda, Jackie, Sandra, Holly McPeak, and now Juliana and Larissa). Our sport is very difficult and to be able to stay at the top and to accomplish what Kerri and I have it has taken much focus and hard work.

You come from California (USA), the cradle of Beach Volleyball. You have seen how the sport has grown fast after it had entered the Olympic programme, in Atlanta 1996. How do you see the evolution of Beach Volleyball, a sport relatively new, that already is among the greatest successful sports in terms of audience in the Olympic Games?

I think that our sport is one of the best events to watch at the Olympics. It is always sold out and the fans have a great time. The sport has grown so much that it popular worldwide with crowds of both young and old. I expect in London and especially in Rio that the Beach volleyball venue will be one of the first to sell out. Not only are the athlete's great to watch but the beach atmosphere allows spectators to relax, be loud, and enjoy the sport.

What were the toughest doubles you have ever competed against?

Ha. Everyone that we compete against is tough. The world is certainly catching up to both USA and Brazil on the beach volleyball front. We have had tremendous battles with Adriana/Shelda, the Chinese team of Xue/Zhang, and certainly now Juliana/Larissa. No matter who we play we must be playing at our highest level.

In which degree has the fifth place in Sydney 2000, when your partner was Holly McPeak, contributed to the later Olympic bichampionship?

I feel that making the Olympics with Holly was a tremendous fete. No one expected us to be there and our qualification was not only shortened but hampered by my injuries. But we proved everyone wrong and made it. Coming up short definitely added fuel to the fire and made me hungry to get a Gold, but just getting to the Olympics in 2000 allowed me to see that I could do it and if I worked hard the Gold was within my grasp.

In 2004, your team competed against Adriana Behar and Shelda in the Olympic final. By then, you were the winners. The Brazilian team is indicated for many as the best in history. Seven years later, what are your memories of your Olympic trajectory in Athens?

My idols are Adriana and Shelda. So for me to be playing on the same stage with them was amazing. I still consider them the best team in history and to battle day in and day out with them helped to make me a better player.

It still feels like a dream [referring to the medal in Athens] and even though so much time has passed, the movie still plays in my mind every time I hear the National Anthem of the USA. The thing I remember most is how Kerri and I were just so focused and had one goal in mind.

In 2008, you were chosen the best player of the Olympic Games. Tell us a little about your experience in Beijing.

I think that out of the 3 Olympic Games I had been to, Beijing was the one that I really enjoyed the most from the Olympic experience side. I really got to take time to see other events where at previous games due to game schedules and focus I just wouldn't allow myself to relax and enjoy. I had most of my family here so winning in front of them and being able to celebrate with them after is something that I will never forget. The Beijing games taught me to take a step back, breath and enjoy the journey.

The United States and Brazil are historically the major powers of Beach Volleyball, and China already shows significant results. Do you believe that those two countries with tradition in the sport are with their reign at risk?

I like to think that both USA and Brazil helped to shape the sport of beach volleyball. Is the reign threatened of course but it is nice to see the sport growing worldwide and other countries developing their games to compete at the same level of the US and Brazil.

Brazil will host the Olympic Games for the first time in 2016, and Beach Volleyball will be disputed in one of the most traditional sights of Rio: the Copacabana beach. You have already competed under the sun and felt the Carioca audience warm spirit. When you knew that Rio has won the bid, what did you think and feel?

When Rio won the bid I thought finally the beach volleyball will get back to a real beach or at least I hope it will be played at the beach. The last time it was played on a true beach was in Bondi at the Sydney Olympics. The spirit of the fans and people of Brazil is fantastic and I know that the venue will be the place to be during the 2016 games. I always enjoy playing in front of the crowds in Rio even though it is hot, the energy is unmatchable.

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