Olsztyn, Poland, August 27, 2015 – Triple-Olympic champion Kerri Walsh admitted she is taking a ‘calculated risk’ by playing with an injured right shoulder, but that the need to reach the required 12 tournaments in the Rio de Janeiro 2016, Olympic Games qualification cycle is driving her on.
Walsh and April Ross are playing at the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour Olsztyn Grand Slam, their second tournament in a row following a five-week break in which Walsh rehabbed her shoulder after she injured it at the Gstaad Major Series tournament in early July.
That injury came soon after the initial injury when she dislocated her shoulder at the Moscow Grand Slam in early June.
In Olsztyn Walsh and Ross won their first two matches, but lost their third to the Netherlands’ Marleen van Iersel and Madelein Meppelink. The 37-year-old has also been forced to adjust her game, notably by serving underhand and attacking with her left hand.
“My shoulder is feeling very good,” Walsh said. “I’m mostly using my left shoulder to hit and putting April up on two because my right shoulder is damaged, it is unstable and I can’t make any swings.
“I’m evolving my game and adjusting and April is as well. It has been a really fun challenge, but frustrating in tight matches because all I want to do is hit, but I feel real good and feel no pain, but I can’t use it.
“We have no choice, we have to play because we need 12 finishes to qualify for the Olympics, so every finish in 2015 is really, really important.”
Walsh and Ross won silver last week at the Long Beach Grand, their second medals of 2015 after they previously won bronze at the Fuzhou Open.
Currently they sit 21st in the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Rankings, with the top 12 of a maximum of two teams per National Olympic Committee qualifying automatically for Rio, though that does not include the automatic berth given to the host nation.
Following the Olsztyn Grand Slam teams will head to the Rio de Janeiro Open, which is also the Rio 2016 test event.
“These Grand Slams are really important and Long Beach was amazing for us to make it to the final, but this week we plan to go as far as possible, we need finishes,” Walsh said. “The plan is to play here in Poland, play in Rio and then I’m going to go home and see my doctor, who will assess my shoulder and figure out if I need surgery or if I can just rehab it and prepare for 2016.
“When you chase big dreams you have to take risks, but it is a calculated risk. I’m chasing a very big dream with April and we’re doing what we have to do. I’m not using my right shoulder and not putting it in jeopardy. It is a big dream and we want to win in Rio, but we have to get there first.”
Dutch delight ensures smooth progress
While Walsh and Ross have to play in the first elimination round, the team that defeated them, van Iersel and Meppelink will go straight into the second elimination round.
They started the tournament slowly with a loss to the USA’s Jennifer Fopma and Brittany Hochevar, but responded with a win over Switzerland’s Nadine Zumkehr and Joana Heidrich before facing Walsh and Ross.
“Of course we know Kerri is injured, so can’t play like we know she can play,” van Iersel sad. “They are still a tough team and April is taking over a lot and we had to play really well ourselves to beat them.”
The Dutch duo are another who are trying to hit their best form on the road to Rio.
In 2014 they won the European Championships and added bronze in Moscow and Sao Paolo. This year they bettered that record with two silvers and a bronze on the World Tour.
“It is the last Grand Slam of the year and everyone wants to have a good result for next year and for Olympic qualification,” Meppelink said. “We are happy that we are missing a round, but it is still important to maintain our form and gives us a lot of confidence.
“I’m really impressed with how Kerri played left-handed, it shows how good her ball control is. They played well, but we played better today.”
For all the women’s results, click here