It was 2004. I was nine years old. Walsh and her partner, Misty May, were playing Brazil in the Athens Olympic finals. Throughout their whole Olympic run, the pair had not dropped a set. Watching the two, I was mesmerized. They were in control of the match the entire time and won their gold medals in two straight sets; 21-17, 21-11.
When I first watched Walsh in that final Olympic game, I had no idea how much she’d come to affect my love of the sport. I started playing indoor volleyball when I was 12 and am currently playing on Newcastle’s women’s team. Something that I always appreciated when I watched Walsh play was the level of connection she shared with her partner. If one of them was having a bad game, they’d work together to pick the other one up.
Walsh and May retained their gold medals in the Beijing 2008 Olympics, and once again the pair did not drop a set. In the pair’s last Olympic appearance together, they won yet another gold medal in the London 2012 Olympics. Three consecutive gold medal placements are the most won by any beach volleyball team, women or men.
After the London Olympics, Walsh began a new partnership with April Ross. In competitions leading up to the Olympics, the two proved themselves to be a formidable duo. Expectations were soaring high once again as the pair entered the Olympics and were ranked first in the world.
Walsh and Ross made it to the semi-finals without dropping a set. However, in the semi-final match, the pair lost in two straight sets to a team from Brazil. The Americans went on to win the Bronze medal the next day.
After the match, Walsh took the blame for the loss upon herself. She’d had an uncharacteristically bad game and had missed several passes she’d normally make.
“It was very poor execution on my part in the most fundamental part of the game and you’re not going to win a match against an amazing team or even a mediocre team if you pass like that,” Walsh said. “I put us in a hole from the start.”
If I’d thought I was a fan of Walsh before, my level of admiration for her skyrocketed upon hearing her take responsibility for the loss.
It’s simple for fans to idolise an athlete when they’re deemed the best of the best, but I think an athlete’s true character emerges from the way they handle their losses. I look up to Walsh for this reason, not because of all the medals she’s earned over the years. In my own volleyball career, her insight has helped me overcome losses and realize how to turn them into learning moments.
Currently, Walsh and new partner Brooke Sweat are aiming to qualify for the 2020 Toyko Olympics. Walsh has already announced it will be her last appearance.
I look forward to seeing what Walsh has to offer in her final Olympic run.