It was painful to watch. You do not wish to see legends go out on a downer.
Kerri Walsh Jennings is certainly a legend in beach volleyball. The loss she and her partner suffered at the hands of Brazilians Agatha and Barbara was in many ways self-inflicted.
That is not to take anything away from the Brazilians, who swept both sets 22-20 and 21-18. They played spectacularly, advancing to tonight’s gold medal match against Germany.
Walsh Jennings was not herself from the beginning. The standards are so high for someone who was 21-0 in three previous Olympiads.
But the legend, who turned 38 on Monday, struggled receiving the serves from the second-seeded Brazilians. Throughout the match, the third-seeded Americans muffed five serves, all by Walsh Jennings.
What does not show up in the statistics are a few more muffs that Ross was able to save, but prevented the Americans from attacking their opponents. In the parlance of beach volleyball, receiving serve is called passing.
Whatever it is called, Walsh Jennings struggled. Agatha and Barbara targeted her throughout the match.
It was a surreal sight watching the defending three-time gold medalist being picked on by her opponents. To her credit, she placed the blame squarely on herself.
“You’ve got to be able to pass the ball to win matches,” Walsh Jennings said afterwards. “That’s unacceptable and inexcusable. You can’t do anything without a pass. That’s what set the tone. We never got our mojo after that and that is why.”
Walsh Jennings was trying to become the first four-time gold medalist in the sport. Doubters thought she and Ross would not click as a team in the high pressure climate of the Olympics.
After all, her perfect Olympic record came playing alongside Misty May-Treanor, who retired following the London games in 2012. The duo’s perfect record in Olympic matches is a remarkable feat in itself.
Walsh Jennings hand-picked Ross within minutes after the 2012 gold medal match. Ross kept her part of the bargain, especially during Tuesday’s match.
While the Olympic career of Walsh Jennings is not officially over, it is difficult to imagine her coming back at age 42. She deserves to be remembered for her many accomplishments instead of what happened late on Tuesday night.
Walsh Jennings and Ross have a chance to leave Rio with a good taste. Unfortunately, all they have to do is win the bronze medal game against the top-seeded Brazilian duo of Larissa and Talita, who were upset by Germany.
That match will be played Wednesday night.