Follow the Pac-12 to Rio: Pac-12 Networks Women’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 Olympic bronze medalist, Holly McPeak.
The third time's the charm.
Perhaps, it’s easier said than done.
The road to the Olympic podium is not a quick one. Fall short once, wait four more years; fail twice, and now eight years have passed, with another two before you can even qualify again.
The old proverb preaches hope to its followers. While used as a way to buy time as one keeps shooting for a goal, it’s not commonly applied to a 12-year span.
The 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta marked the first time beach volleyball would be played on the Olympic stage.
Holly McPeak and her partner Nancy Reno fought through the two-year qualifying process to earn a trip to the sport’s inaugural Olympic event.
McPeak, who led the UCLA Bruins to a NCAA volleyball championship in 1990 with a record-setting season of 2,192 assists, was eyeing gold in Atlanta.
“We were the best team in the world,” McPeak said. While her partner was playing injured with a torn rotator cuff, the team placed fifth at the games. “It was surreal. But still exciting to compete with the USA on your back.”
The 1993 Association of Volleyball Professionals’ (AVP) MVP and Defensive Player of the Year was heading towards her peak through the latter of the decade.
During qualifying for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, she picked up a new partner, a young rookie by the name of Misty May Treanor.
“She got hurt with three events left. Nobody thought we had a chance except for me and Misty,” McPeak said.
The duo would clinch an Olympic berth at the last qualifying event for Sydney.
“We were down by five or six points and came back to win,” said McPeak. “Just the fact that we were able to qualify in one year is definitely memorable.”
Again, injuries to her partner would make it tough for McPeak’s team to medal at the games. Treanor suffered a torn abdominal muscle and was on bed rest for six weeks leading up to Sydney. For a second time, it was a fifth-place finish.
“I was focused on my goals then, so I didn’t appreciate the moment. Who knows when or if you'll ever get to another Olympic Games? In Athens, I feel like I really did enjoy the moment.”
2004 was a ‘make or break’ year for McPeak. She and her partner, fellow Bruin Elaine Youngs, were healthy and confident. The team rode that confidence to wins in their first five matches at the Olympics in Athens.
“It’s the mindset on the world stage you're going to compete on that makes a huge difference,” said McPeak.
The Americans would top the Australian team in the bronze medal match, 2-1. McPeak, who had been competing professionally for over a decade, could finally say she was an Olympic medalist.
“We were one of the three best teams in the world and I was proud to be up there. It was the best highlight of all, it was amazing.”
“I got to be up there with my best friends,” McPeak recalled. “While competing on the international tour, you make friends from other countries. I learned to embrace other cultures and languages. Two of my best friends were the best Brazilian team in the world, Shelda Bede and Adriana Behar. In Athens, the podium was Walsh, May, Adriana, Shelda, myself and Elaine.”
For McPeak, the Olympic journey had come full circle.
“It was a dream come true. Growing up as a young child and watching athletes compete at the 1984 Olympics, I thought how amazing it would be to be on that podium.”
In 2009, the former first team All-Pac 10 Bruin was inducted into the Volleyball Hall of Fame. She is now an analyst for Pac-12 Networks volleyball telecasts.
She advises athletes heading to the games this year in Rio to find the situation that is most comfortable for them.
“My first Olympic games, I really looked forward to the opening ceremony,” McPeak said. “It was the longest day of my life. I’ll never forget it, it was amazing, but I'd advise against walking in opening ceremony. Be off of your feet. The best opening ceremony was the one I watched from bed in a hotel in Athens. It was beautiful.”
She sees Kerri Walsh Jennings/April Ross and Larissa França/Talita Antunes as the two best teams to be battling for gold.
“I was watching Kerri and April at the court right in front of my house. I’ve been able to watch their careers. They’re both Pac-12 athletes, it’s super exciting. I can't wait to see what they do.”
McPeak is one of 11 athletes from the Pac-12 to compete in beach volleyball at the Olympic Games, and just one of six to medal.
One could say the third-time charm, is in the form of an Olympic medal.
Check back next Monday for a feature on Pac-12 Networks men’s volleyball analyst Kevin Barnett.