Those women aspiring to win a medal in beach volleyball at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, be warned. The most decorated athlete in the history of the sport feels that she and her teammate are still getting better.
"I think we keep improving every time we step on the court," two-time Olympic gold medalist Misty May-Treanor recently told The Huffington Post about the state of her training with longtime teammate Kerri Walsh. Of course, May-Treanor presumes that everyone she will face in London is working just as hard and improving just as steadily.
"But you have to understand too, the whole world is getting better. What might’ve seemed okay when we first started is like, ‘No, we can’t afford to do that anymore.’ Now our game’s got to step up," said May-Treanor. "We’ve got to be better because everyone else is improving.”
Before embarking on the road to 2012 Summer Olympics, by way of several other tournaments and myriad media engagements, the 34-year-old U.S. Olympian took some time to talk with The Huffington Post about her training, her partnership with Walsh, the state of beach volleyball and what she'll be wearing when he hits the sand in London.
HuffPost Sports: What are your goals as you participate in pre-Olympic events?
Misty May-Treanor: Of course, every time an athlete steps on the court, they want to win. We want to win these events, but we also do understand that we have a big goal in mind and that these tournaments are there to prepare us for that. On the whole scheme of things, we do want to win, we want to be on top, we want to be the No. 1 seed. But there is time to work on certain aspects of our game so the rhythm is there when we need it.
HP Sports: What aspects of your game are you trying to improve ahead of London?
MMT: If you talk to Kerri and I, we always feel like we need to improve on everything. But last year getting back after not playing two years together, our rhythm wasn’t there. And that’s what we’re trying to work on -- finding our rhythm with our defense. Rhythm is the key to our success. That’s what we’ve been working on.
HP Sports: What were the tell-tale signs that your rhythm was off?
MMT: For us, like last year, we knew our rhythm was off when we were losing the tight matches. [We were] making errors that we normally wouldn’t make -- different runs and points, and getting longer runs and points. So that’s our kind of way to see the rhythm’s not there.
HP Sports: As an elder stateswoman of beach volleyball, how does the game look to you?
MMT: I have no doubt the game is going to live on. You see different countries finishing on the podium now. The gratifying thing for me -- and what makes me happy, and I’ve told a few of the players -- is that a lot of the top players now that you’re seeing [previously] struggled in the qualifier. They had to work their way up. And I remember when I first started. These are players that could’ve easily quit or backed down, and they just kept plugging away, plugging away, plugging away. And I told a couple of them, ‘Hey, I’m proud of you, to see you deserve where you are now for the hard work.’ That’s what you want to see. You want to see the players develop over time, and for myself and some of the older players, you want to see that next generation coming up.
HP Sports: Are there any members of this next generation that stand out?
MMT: I mean there are lots. I can’t speak for the U.S. We’re one of the older teams, more experienced teams, but there are a lot of other countries. Russia has some young teams. Italy, certainly their team now is young. Even Brazil has very young teams. [So does] China. So the whole world has such great developmental programs for the young players to come up that you’re seeing younger players, both on the men’s and women’s side, coming to tournaments every year. You’re like, ‘She’s only 19?’ You know? But that’s what these other countries have developed to bring other players in earlier.
HP Sports: Is training and strategy different now that you're no longer one of those 19-year-olds?
MMT: For sure, we’ve all gone through what Kerri’s [Walsh] gone through -- having two kids -- and your body changes even though it doesn’t look like it. For me, my Achilles will never be the same. So my body has had to adapt. Maybe I don’t jump the way I used to, but I’ve got to make up for it in other areas. And that’s the beauty in our sport: There are ways to make up for it. You don’t have to be fast, you don’t have to be the tallest, but you’ve really got to use your head. You know when things [matter most in] crunch time, when you’re tired, when you’re banged up that’s when the focus and the concentration kicks in, and you have to just be a little smarter every time you touch the ball.
HP SPorts: What intangible attributes do you think help you and Kerri the most?
MMT: I generally think, Kerri and I, our experience together really helps because we’ve played with each other for so long. We’ve worked through the ups, we’ve been through the downs together. That’s a strength of ours.
HP Sports: While the physical aspects of your game have altered during your career, is there anything different about your mental preparation?
MMT: You have to go into every competition the same. I think the thing for me ... the biggest change is just [accepting] the journey, you know? And letting the things come as they roll.
HP Sports: What are the keys and fears for you physically as you prepare?
MMT: Rest is important, one. And staying injury free. Also, I have allergies. And in Beijing, my allergies kicked up right at the Olympics and whenever I have allergies it turns into a cold. I was coughing the whole time we were playing, and had to be put on some medicine from the doctors. So as far as health, I felt physically fine, but it was like another thing that affected me. I was like, ‘Man!’
It’s just about being prepared, and that’s what that whole PSA and my involvement with the ‘Ditch the Drip’ campaign (Ed note: campaign is in partnership withwith the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America) is about: just being prepared. So for us traveling to different places -- I could be perfectly fine here, it’s raining here in California, but then it could be totally dry and just a high pollen count elsewhere -- is just about being prepared. [It's about] kind of knowing whats going on. And that goes for anything, like hydrating, making sure you’re hydrated on these trips. I mean, it goes for anything, you’re not going to go to competition and just bring one suit. You’ve got to make sure you’re counting for everything.
HP Sports: Do you have any special preparations for the conditions in London?
MMT: I’ve never been there. I’ve never been outside Heathrow Airport before. But I know everybody says, ‘Oh, be prepared for cold. It’s kind of rainy!’ That would be the only thing [to consider]. Right now, it’s just making sure we have some gear to go if it’s a little bit on the cooler side.
HP Sports: Speaking of gear, competitors in beach volleyball at the 2012 London Games will have the opportunity to wear shorts rather than bathing suits. How was that decision greeted by the players?
MMT: I think those [new rules] are more for uniforms to be able to like [accomodate] if there are certain religions or people want that type of dress. [If] they’re more conservative then they are able to wear that. We’re going to still wear our bathing suits because that’s what we like and that’s what we’re used to. So this is just another option. But when it is cold weather, they call it cold weather gear, and you know, you can wear a long sleeve and longer pants, they just have to match, so we’re able to wear that. I think the shorts and the tank top are more for serving other purposes for other countries.
HP Sports: Have you ever thought twice about your sport having such revealing uniforms?
MMT: It is a little different to wear bathing suits, and sometimes people don’t feel comfortable in that. This is what I grew up with at the beach. But you do have to [consider others' views], especially when new countries and new participants are getting involved. And that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to grow the sport. You have to keep in mind that not everybody’s the same, and allow for that to be available. You see the kids wearing shorts and tank tops. I grew up wearing shorts and tank tops. There’s nothing wrong with it.
HP Sports: Did you think about making a career out of volleyball when you were playing at the beach in your youth?
MMT: I didn’t really think that, ‘Oh, this is something in 15-20 years I’d be doing.’ I mean, I always loved just playing on the beach. I thought I’d be playing indoor, and making a living indoor for longer than beach.
HP Sports: Do you see yourself going back inside?
MMT: It’s different. I like the freedom I have on the beach. But I always wonder like, ‘Gosh, if I stuck with indoor..’ You know how you always wonder like, ‘Oh, what would you be doing?’ But I’m happy with the choice I made and I love it. I love what I’ve been able to do for this sport.
HP Sports: What's next for you?
I finished my Master’s degree for coaching and athletic administration and all, and I’ll be graduating in the fall. But I ultimately want to go back and coach indoor. I do clinics and stuff. So I still work with indoor volleyball. With some aspect I want to [get back to indoor volleyball], but my body thanks me for switching to beach. And I’ve gotten to meet so many fantastic people, travel so many different places all over the world.