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American beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh Jennings has a newfound respect for a medal she used to see as a consolation prize.
“There’s no shame in a bronze medal. I used to think that, and I’m so ashamed of thinking that because there’s so much joy and hard work and love in this,” she said Thursday, holding up her hard-fought hardware.
“That’s my ego talking and that’s just ignorance to me,” she told TODAY's Matt Lauer Thursday. “We won this, we didn’t lose. We won this. We lost our chance to win a gold, but we won this bronze model.”
Walsh Jennings and her partner April Ross won third place Wednesday night, just 24 hours after losing their chance at the gold medal match. The defeat represented the first loss for Walsh Jennings in her Olympic career.
“We were devastated the night before, literally devastated," Walsh Jennings said. "We didn't sleep a wink."
But they came back for their final match fired up by the high stakes.
“You’re either get a medal or you go home empty handed," Ross said. "There’s so much on the line."
Asked if she and her partner will return four years from now, Ross indicated it was possible, but joked it could depend on the health of her partner, who already is the oldest female medal winner in beach volleyball history.
“I can totally see us still together in Tokyo,” Ross said. “I’m assuming she’ll have to have one more shoulder surgery before, but she’ll come back stronger than ever, like she always does.”
Walsh Jennings is now the most decorated beach volleyball player in history, a title she holds dear because of the partners she has worked with.
“It makes me very proud because I’ve done it along side people that I truly love and respect and admire and they make me better,” she said.