Superstar beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings is the latest athlete to join the Asics family, signing with the company today. This is huge news for Asics, which has been focusing on expanding its presence in the beach volleyball space since it launched a competition swimwear line this year and became the title sponsor of the 2013 Asics World Series of Beach Volleyball last summer.
And what a way to stake a claim in the sport! Jennings is a three-time Olympic gold medalist and considered the best beach volleyball players of all time. She told Shape in an exclusive interview why she's just as excited as Asics is about the big move, her plans to dominate Rio, and why age doesn't matter.
Shape: What most attracted you to Asics?
Kerri Walsh Jennings (KWJ): Asics represents what I'm all about: excellence, integrity, strong mind, strong body, and helping people lead healthier lives. They also represent living your best life, and that's certainly my objective. Asics will not only be a part of my Olympic dreams—you know, going to Rio in 2016—but also part of my dreams as a mommy and a public figure giving back and helping to inspire people. Asics is the best, and I want to be the best, so I hope they rub off on me.
Shape: What are you looking forward to doing with them?
KWJ: I want to grow with a company, and Asics is so open to possibilities that the opportunities feel endless. We're already talking about having me design a training shoe and a clothing line.
Shape: What do you think of Asics' new swimwear collection?
KWJ: I really love their bikinis. The material they use is from Italy, and it's just beautiful in how it breathes and moves. I don't worry about any wardrobe malfunctions, and it's soft. Usually sporty fabric is a bit stiff and restrictive, but this moves with my body. I've worked with swimsuit companies in the past, I've had my pieces custom-made, but none have been made to fit my body like this.
Shape: Which is your favorite suit?
KWJ: The Kanani. I like to walk the line between sexy and sporty without getting close to crossing that line. This bikini suits the bill.
Shape: When will the public get to see you in these bikinis?
KWJ: I leave this weekend to go to China, where I'll be competing for the first time officially wearing Asics. You'll also be able to see me at the 2014 Asics World Series of Beach Volleyball. It's an international grand slam that will take place in Long Beach, CA, in July. This will be my first comeback competition in the U.S. since having baby number three last year.
Shape: With three back-to-back Olympic gold medals, some may think you'd be a little cocky. But you're so humble. How do you keep your ego in check?
KWJ: I'm certainly not perfect. I have my days. I'm surrounded by great people and I'm very fortunate to live a blessed life. I want to be a positive for people. Even on my bad days, I want to be a shining light. If I'm wallowing or being a jerk, family and friends will tell me, and I'll get embarrassed and try to fix it. It also helps that I stopped comparing myself to people a long time ago, which is very liberating and allows me to really be present and authentic in a lot of situations. It kind of takes the pressure off.
Shape: When you go to the Summer Games in Rio, you'll be 37. Any concerns about your age?
KWJ: There's a finite period of time that you can play at the Olympic caliber, but that being said, I spend less than zero percent of the time thinking about my age and where it puts me. It was a non-issue with me when I was 22 years old with Misty May-Treanor and we were beating 30-year-olds. If you're great, you're great. And for me, I'm in a place where I have more wisdom and experience than I have ever had in my career. I still have so much more room for improvement technique- and physicality-wise. I look at how I can grow and get better in my sport. Age is not a deterrent or hindrance.
Shape: Misty will not be going to Rio with you. You have a new partner.
KWJ: I had an amazing 10 years with Misty. But it came to a natural end when she retired. This new beginning with April Ross is something I am so excited about. I've loved every second with her so far. She's a fighter. She's a worker. She's a geek for the sport just like I am. She wants to grow the game just like I do. We're excited to work our butts off to be the best we can be. And if we're in top form and we stay healthy, we're going to be the toughest team in the world to beat. We will accomplish our dreams and win the gold medal in Rio—and a lot more medals along the way.