Beach volleyball's Walsh Jennings says shoulder is stronger
Three-time beach volleyball gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings says her surgically repaired right shoulder is holding up as she zeroes in on another Olympic berth.
Walsh Jennings and partner April Ross won last week's FIVB tour stop in Fuzhou, China, a week after finishing third in Xiamen. Ross and Walsh Jennings have reached the podium in every event they have entered so far this year, propelling them into the lead for one of the two spots for American teams at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
''It was a really good test when we were in China,'' Walsh Jennings said in a telephone interview Wednesday, 100 days before the start of the Rio Games. ''It was raining every single day, and the balls were like medicine balls. I'm getting stronger, better.''
Walsh Jennings won three straight beach volleyball gold medals with Misty May-Treanor, who retired after the London Games. Ross, who was with Jennifer Kessy when they lost in the 2012 Olympics championship, teamed up with Walsh Jennings in her attempt to make it four in a row.
But Walsh Jennings dislocated her shoulder twice last summer. She had surgery on her labrum in September and returned to the beach in January, needing to move up the international standings and also to reach the minimum of 12 events by June to qualify for Rio.
Asked if she was at 100 percent, Walsh Jennings said: ''I'm 100 percent of where I am right now.''
''I never know how to answer that question because it doesn't matter,'' she said.
Walsh Jennings was speaking during a publicity tour for the Dick's Sporting Goods Contenders Program, which gives jobs to Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls. Though Walsh Jennings is able to play professionally, she knows the program is a key part of the support lower-profile athletes need to make it to the Summer Games.
Almost 200 potential Olympians have been given jobs that have flexible hours so they can train while also allowing them to earn money to support themselves and their training. The company will also make a donation toward youth sports programs for every U.S. medal.
Walsh first went to the Olympics in Sydney in 2000 as a member of the American indoor volleyball team that finished fourth. Before switching to the sand and becoming one of the most dominant players in the world, she needed to work part-time as a dog-walker and in a children's shoe store to support herself.
''It's hard when you're competing, because you don't even want to look for a full time job. Your first priority is your sport,'' she said. ''Every Olympian has a journey to get there. It's a labor of love because most of us aren't NBA athletes; we have to find a way.''
Jimmy Golen can be found on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jgolen. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/jimmy-golen .