LONG BEACH -- Kerri Walsh Jennings is getting a lot of the attention as the FIVB Grand Slam opens at the World Series of Beach Volleyball, even though she's not playing for another four days.
The three-time Olympic gold medalist is making a comeback after she gave birth to her third child and first daughter, Scout, in April. She was supposed to compete in the Long Beach event -- international beach volleyball's return to the U.S. for the first time in 10 years -- as part of her relaunch but she withdrew because of an abdominal strain.
She'll still compete here Saturday with Whitney Pavlik in the inaugural World Series Cup.
"It's been crazy because my life has been busier than it's ever been," she said Tuesday. "It's crazy. I have three kids. I've literally taken probably 11 flights since my baby's been born. I've been everywhere."
That's because Walsh Jennings is aiming for a fourth Olympic gold medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. But she took the abdominal strain as a sign to pull back a bit.
She said she put her body "through the ringer" after her delivery and the ensuing training regimen that emphasized weight training and flexibility.
"I just put my body through a beautiful war," she said with a laugh. "I'm still carrying eight pounds, which is a lot when you're trying to be in a bikini and running around in the sand. But ultimately I feel like it's protecting me more because I have more muscle mass and my foundation is stronger. But my ego has taken a hit because I want to fit in my bikini."
After she won gold in the 2012 London Olympics with longtime partner Misty May-Treanor, who is now retired, Walsh Jennings turned to U.S. teammate and silver medalist April Ross and said, "Let's go for gold in Rio now." The idea was solidified when Walsh Jennings was leaving London and saw a picture of Rio's Christ the Redeemer statue at Heathrow Airport.
"It was right at my gate," Walsh Jennings said. "I was like, 'I hear you.' It kind of made me say, 'Do I have enough in me? Do I want this bad enough? The answer is yes."
Ross, who is playing with Jennifer Kessy this week, is expected to partner with Walsh Jennings for Rio. The two debuted earlier this month at the Gstaad Grand Slam in Switzerland and won three pool play matches before they were eliminated in the second round.
Ross got a good vibe in Gstaad and looks forward to the partnership.
"It's intimidating, too, especially coming along a couple of years after her," Ross said. "She was the person I looked up to. Every time I make a mistake, I feel like I'm letting her down. But I know she doesn't feel like that. It's going to take a little bit of adjusting, too."
Even though Walsh Jennings will sit out until Saturday, her appearance in Long Beach, on national television, is a boon to event organizers. The World Series Cup features the top U.S. men's and women's teams competing against the world, a sort-of Ryder Cup for beach volleyball.
"The fans want to come out and see the best in the world, so when she's here, her fan base obviously is attracted, but it makes the event so much bigger and so much more credible," said creator and producer Leonard Armato, who said he expects more than 100,000 spectators for the week.