U.S. beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh is honing her game for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, where she and her playing partner, Misty May-Treanor, hope to continue a streak of dominance that goes back to the 2004 games in Athens and Beijing in 2008.
Speaking with Morning Edition co-host Renee Montagne, Walsh says the duo's effort to represent the United States this summer is going well.
"So far, so good. The qualification process started early in 2011, and Misty and I are about 95 percent of the way qualified," Walsh says. "We need to have one more event, and then it's all about securing the No. 1 seed. We're feeling really good; we can't wait for London. We want to do what's never been done before, which is three consecutive gold medals."
When Renee asks if she considers herself and May-Treanor the team to beat, the 6-foot-3-inch Walsh answers, "Absolutely" — although she says it with a laugh that might seem at odds with the formidable presence she has during competition.
Walsh, who was also an elite indoor volleyball player in college, has led volleyball's pro tour in both blocks and hitting percentage in the same year on at least three occasions.
Walsh has two sons, born in 2009 and 2010 — which helps to explain why she also has a new sponsor: Pampers.
News of the sponsorship came out last month. And Walsh says the deal with the Procter & Gamble unit lets her avoid needing a regular day job to help support her family.
"It allows me to chase my dream," Walsh tells Renee. "If I didn't have their support, I would have to have a 9 to 5, and I'd be a weekend warrior. I wouldn't be going for a third gold medal."
But the involvement of family-friendly Pampers as a sponsor doesn't mean Walsh will consider changing her match uniform of a close-fitting bikini to more modest attire — something that all female volleyball players can now do, thanks to an edict from the sport's ruling body.
As Walsh told the AP recently, she'll be sticking with the bikini.
"It's something I really feel comfortable with," she said. "It's something I feel empowered by, not distracted with. I'm not a sex symbol; I'm an athlete. I want to be streamlined out there."
If she qualifies as expected, Walsh and her family will travel to London for the games — where she says her sons will be wearing special limited-edition Team USA diapers from Pampers.
"My boys will be wearing these diapers in London; it's their competition gear," Walsh tells Renee. "I'll be wearing my bikini; they'll be wearing these diapers."
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Our next guest has a perfect record over the last two Olympics. Kerri Walsh and her beach volleyball partner, Misty May-Treanor, won gold medals in both Athens and Beijing. They hope to win a third gold this summer in London. And Kerri Walsh has another partner this time around: Pampers, the diaper the brand, as a sponsor. She joined me here at NPR West as part of our Olympics Countdown series.
KERRI WALSH: Good morning, thanks for having me.
MONTAGNE: So, the U.S. beach volleyball team isn't named...
WALSH: Not quite yet.
MONTAGNE: ...for a few more months. But so far, how is training going?
WALSH: So far, so good. You know, the qualification process started early in 2011 and Misty and I are about 95 percent of the way qualified. We need to have one more event, and then it's all about securing the number one seat. So we're feeling really good. We can't wait for London. You know, we want to do what's never been done before, which is three consecutive gold medals.
MONTAGNE: So you figure, you and Misty May, a duo to beat.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MONTAGNE: You know, if you weren't thinking that you...
WALSH: Yeah, we'd be in trouble. You know, we're feeling – we're working so hard and feeling so good. And the world has really embraced our sport, which is really motivating, you know, 'cause we want to be the best now. We've got a lot on our plate.
MONTAGNE: Since the last Olympics, you have given birth to two sons.
MONTAGNE: You now have two children with your husband. And he's also a beach volleyball star...
MONTAGNE: ...Casey Jennings. And so, is that why Pampers, from Proctor and Gamble, why they might want a formal relationship with you, because you have two babies in Pampers?
WALSH: Absolutely. You know, it makes sense. And they came out with these limited edition Team USA diapers. My boys will be wearing these diapers, you know, in London, as their competition gear. I'll be wearing my bikini. They'll be wearing these diapers.
But on a bigger scope with P&G, you know, they're committed to athletes, moms and families. And that's exactly what my family, what myself, what we are. You know, I'm going for my gold medal in the Olympics. And along the way, you know, we're supporting their products which we believe in anyway.
MONTAGNE: What does a sponsorship mean for you, personally - your family? How much does it allow you to be who you are, which is an Olympic athlete?
WALSH: Yeah, you know, I - it allows me to chase my dreams. You know, if I didn't have their support I would have to have a nine-to-five. And I'd be a weekend warrior. I wouldn't be going for a third gold medal.
MONTAGNE: Is there a balance, though, that you have to strike between your training and your sponsorship?
WALSH: You know, it's a priority for my sponsors that I win. They pay me to win. They want to be represented by the best. And the best isn't necessarily mean winning; it means great people with integrity and all these things, and I hope to have that. But they pay me to win. It's definitely a balancing act. It's really, really challenging, especially with the Olympics coming up that, you know, everyone wants our time. That being said, it's a great problem to have.
MONTAGNE: And the terms of this sponsorship with Proctor & Gamble, what do you owe the company?
WALSH: I owe the company to work my butt off. You know, that's what I do.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
WALSH: And to go out their and represent myself and my family to the best of my ability.
MONTAGNE: But, when I say that, does it mean that - I mean, what specifically? Is there a list of things you have to do for them?
WALSH: Sure. I have media days. I was on "The View" a couple of weeks ago for Pampers, which was so fun. I got to hang out with Elizabeth Hasselbeck. And, you know, I get to do fun stuff like this. But mostly it's centered on the media. And then, of course, my main job is to go out there and represent myself and my country the best in the Olympics.
MONTAGNE: Kerri Walsh, thanks very much for joining us.
WALSH: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you guys so much.
MONTAGNE: Kerri Walsh is a winner of two gold medals in Olympics Beach Volleyball. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.