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Walsh Jennings in her most recent appearance on the international circuit in Ostrava in 2021

The beach volleyball career of American legend Kerri Walsh Jennings is not over yet as the three-time Olympic champion has announced her plans to return to the sand during the 2023 season, with a new partner.

The 44-year-old Walsh Jennings, who last appeared in an event in June 2021, will play alongside former United States women’s volleyball national team star Logan Tom, 41. The two players plan to begin their partnership on the Beach Pro Tour in March, Walsh Jennings said in an interview with NBC Sports.

An Olympic champion at the Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Games, Walsh Jennings took some time to think about the future of her career after she failed to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics with former partner Brooke Sweat.

The two were in a relatively comfortable position in the rankings, but after 25th and 33rd place finishes in the last two events of the qualification period, they were overtaken by compatriots Kelly Cheng and Sarah Sponcil, who eventually qualified, meaning Walsh Jennings missed her first Olympics since Atlanta 1996.

“All of 2021 was tougher than anything in my career,” Walsh Jennings commented. “I lost myself. I didn’t know how to play anymore. Brooke and I were disconnected but trying so hard. I’m like, is this the end? Am I literally going to go out limping? In my heart and in my body, that just didn’t feel good.”

The three-time world champion needed a partner to continue her career and immediately thought of Tom, a two-time Olympic medallist (Beijing and London) and four-time Olympian, who was her teammate at the collegiate level at Stanford.

Tom, who had a brief beach volleyball experience between 2006 and 2007, competing in two FIVB World Tour events, didn’t immediately say yes to Walsh Jennings’ idea, but agreed to a six-week training period in California at the end of 2022 to see how things would work out. The two were satisfied with what they worked on together and decided to take the next step.

“For my last go around competing, I want it to feel really good and feel really special,” Walsh Jennings added. “Logan brings that. She’s someone I’ve loved since I met her at Stanford, and she’s just one of my favorite teammates ever. She’s such a champion. So the thought of us getting together just makes us both smile, which is why we’re doing this.”

The two understand very well the challenges they will face to move up in the rankings at the international level and to earn a spot among the top teams in the world. They are set to start from the bottom, and after a long period of inactivity.

But with Walsh Jennings and Tom combining for nine Olympic appearances and six Olympic medals, it’s impossible not to think of them as a team which could play a role in qualification for Paris 2024.

“Paris is in the background, right?”, the legendary blocker added. “That’s obviously out there. That would be the ultimate goal, but we’re really taking this one phase at a time. To create this pressure and this energy around qualifying doesn’t make sense for us right now. I’m very comfortable being a very long shot, because I know we’ll put in the time. On paper, it makes no sense to do, this late in the game with no points and everything. But I just feel like it’s in my heart, it’s in her heart, and we’re going to give it a whirl.”