As the great ones do, Walsh Jennings and her teammate, April Ross, made it look easy early Monday at Copacabana Beach, defeating Australia's Louise Bawden and Taliqua Clancy in straight sets to advance to the semifinals in the Rio Olympics. The US duo of Walsh Jennings and Ross, ranked third in the world heading into the Games, have yet to lose and have only dropped one set.
"We are chasing a gold medal with someone I love so much," Walsh Jennings said following the win. "It's been such a treat, the whole two weeks so far."
Walsh Jennings, a five-time Olympian and three-time gold medalist who has never lost an Olympic beach volleyball match, is still going strong at age 38, and she isn't showing signs of slowing down. She also is chasing history.
Should she win a medal, Walsh Jennings would be the most decorated athlete -- male or female -- in beach volleyball. She currently is tied with Misty May-Treanor, her former partner, for three medals (all gold) and Emanuel Rego and Ricardo Santos of Brazil, who each have gold, silver and bronze. In Rio, Walsh Jennings seeks her fourth gold with Ross, who won silver in London in 2012.
No one had two Olympic gold medals in beach volleyball before Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor earned their second in Beijing in 2008, and no woman had three medals of any color before the two won in London.
If Walsh Jennings wins gold in Rio, she would be the fourth woman to win four consecutive golds in a team sport. The others are Canadians Jayna Hefford and Hayley Wickenheiser in hockey and American Lisa Leslie in basketball.
And Walsh Jennings believes she can win, telling CNN before the start of pool play that she is "supremely confident" and that she and Ross are "hungrier than ever."
"My partner is the best partner in the world," Walsh Jennings said. "Together, we're really tough to beat."
Tough challenge ahead
Following her latest win on Monday, which also happened to be her birthday, Walsh Jennings was treated to a singing of "Happy Birthday" by the crowd. But that likely will be the last time she'll receive a favorable reaction from the fans at these Rio Olympics. It's also about to get a lot harder.
On Tuesday night, Walsh Jennings and Ross will take on the reigning world champions and the No. 2 team in the world, Brazil's Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas. It's sure to be a pro-Brazilian crowd. And should the Americans win and advance to the gold medal match, they likely will have to face another Brazilian team: The other semifinal is top-ranked Larissa Franca and Talita Antunes, who are facing Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst of Germany.
Following Monday's win, Walsh Jennings was asked whether she is thinking about winning gold. "It's in me every single day," she said.
"We know absolutely what our eye is on," Walsh Jennings continued. "We are pretty clear on that focus. We have Agatha and Barbara in two days and we are so excited. They are very good. I'm expecting their best and bringing our best and I like our chances."
It hasn't been an easy road to get to this point, and it hasn't just been the competition in the sand. Walsh Jennings had surgery on her shoulder less than a year ago for a torn labrum and capsule. She was sidelined until January.
"It's just a little bump in the road, something that obviously I wish I didn't have to deal with. But injuries have always been part of my journey," Walsh Jennings said. "Every single Olympics, I've had to deal with them, so unfortunately and fortunately I know the recipe for success here."
Despite that injury setback, not being the favorite and with what surely will be a raucous crowd rooting against her, Walsh Jennings said she and Ross are confident they can beat Agatha and Barbara.
"I think some Brazilians would have different opinions on that, but we don't really mind what other people think," Walsh Jennings said. "We respect Agatha and Barbara so much. We always have, and we are going to bring our A game and we are going to give it our best."
Not done yet?
Walsh Jennings, whose mother played volleyball at Santa Clara and father played minor league baseball in the Oakland A's organization, says that she was born to be an athlete.
"There is another beast inside me that's been growing throughout the years of, you know, wanting to be the best in high school, wanting to be the best in college, wanting to be the best in the Olympics, best in the world," Walsh Jennings said. "When you're chasing these big dreams, I think it's important to kind of live in that part of you. ... I want to be the best, and I love it, also. I love my life and the fact that I can live in that space a lot."
With her competitive fire and her winning streak -- she's won 26 matches in a row heading into Tuesday night -- this may not be the last Olympics for Walsh Jennings. She hasn't ruled out going for Tokyo in 2020.
And the athlete has the best support group of all: her family.
"I love what I do with all my heart," Walsh Jennings said. "I'm chasing my dream, so I'm just doing what's necessary. I have a beautiful family. I have three kids, I have a loving, very supportive husband, and we're doing this together.
"You know, if I was doing this alone, and sacrificing having a family or putting certain life things aside to chase this dream, it would be a different story. But I am super motivated. I'm very supported. At this point, I feel grateful and blessed."