Follow the Pac-12 to Rio: Pac-12 Networks Men’s Volleyball

It’s time to follow the Pac-12 to Rio! Leading into the 2016 Olympic Games, Pac-12 Networks Insider will profile its on-air talent with Olympic ties. Whether they’re broadcasters, competitors or have accomplished both feats, we have you covered.

This week, Pac-12 Networks Insider features volleyball analyst and two-time Olympian, Kevin Barnett.

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“I just know I made it through practice today and I’m hoping to make it through tomorrow.”

Kevin Barnett’s attitude during his Olympic qualifying was to stick to the script and not focus on the pain.

Before Barnett was a play-by-play announcer, he competed on two Olympic squads. The All-American volleyball star was at outside hitter for team USA. He became a member of the United States men’s national team in 1997.

Years of stress on his knees would lead to the misfortunes of dealing with injuries going into the Olympic team tryouts. Before the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, it was a battle to stay healthy and make the team.

“You’re fighting for a spot right down to a month before the Olympic Games. Getting healthy was a really tough journey, so making the 2000 roster was a big deal for me.”

Becoming an Olympian the first time fulfilled a goal for Barnett but did not accomplish what he set out for. After a flat performance in Sydney by team USA, he geared up for Athens in 2004.

Barnett describes the atmosphere of the qualifying process as “co-opetition”, both competition and cooperation.

“It’s tough because you’re on one team trying to make another team. So everyone is basically trying out.”

Again, Barnett was coming back from a major injury. In the face of adversity, he used going to practice every day as an escape from the strain and struggle.

“I had a day-by-day focus,” Barnett says. “That was my approach and it took the stress off for me.”

Barnett, who doesn’t remember the moment he became an Olympian the first time, remembers making the 2004 team vividly.

Two days before the selection, USA was playing against Russia. Barnett subbed into the game and helped the Americans come from behind to win.

“The next morning they sat us down in a hotel room and said, ‘if you’re sitting in this room you’ve made the Olympic team.’ I took a short breath. Everything you work for is built into that moment, and once that moment is over you have to build toward the next one.”

Barnett felt more at ease the second time around, having been through the process before.

“I was comfortable. It’s a long slog of a tournament; you play every other day for two weeks. You get into a rhythm: rest, play, rest, play.”

It was keeping that focus, moving from one thing to the next, that remained constant; match-by-match, game-by-game, day-by-day.

After advancing past the group stage, the US was down two sets to one in the opening match of tournament play against Greece in front of their home crowd. In the fourth set, Greece led 20-12.

“They were serving for the match. We were just playing from one point to the next.”

With that, Barnett and his team pulled off one of the greatest set comebacks in Olympics volleyball history, taking it 25-23. But again would find themselves down 12-9 in the fifth and final set.

“It was eight years’ worth of work, but you can’t have any of that running through your mind.”

Barnett and his teammates rallied back a second time to win the fifth set, 17-15, and take the match.

Eight years’ worth of work, battling through injuries, paid off. The US finished fourth at the Games in Athens, a finish he could live with after the disappointing 2000 Games.

After his playing career was over, Barnett made the transition to being a broadcaster. He got the chance to see his former teammates compete at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

“They struggled through the same mess I did in 2000 and 2004. I really enjoyed it when the men’s team won gold in ‘08; a lot of my friends were on that team. I took a moment to stand in that stadium and be a part of it. It was pretty special and I’m quite thankful for it. The broadcasting path has given me a whole new career.”

From athlete to play-by-play announcer, it has been quite a journey for Barnett. It’s not one you see many athletes accomplish, but one he describes as “fun”.

“It isn’t easy to develop the skills of a new career. In play-by-play, it’s getting in and out of commercials, not using ‘filler’ words; it’s a completely different job from analyst. One of the challenges of being an athlete is when you have to reinvent yourself after your athletic career and learn a new set of skills.”

Barnett says he followed in the footsteps of fellow Pac-12 Networks on-air personalities Paul Sunderland and Chris Marlowe after working with them. The Games in Rio will be Barnett’s third as a broadcaster.

“I’m looking forward to the raucous crowds. I think Brazil will show up to watch; fans will be excited, and will show up equally for both sides (men’s and women’s). The culture loves the sport and I think that’s one of the most exciting things about the games being in Rio.”

Check back Friday for a feature on Pac-12 Networks beach volleyball analysts Kevin Wong and Dain Blanton.

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