After winning second straight Olympic gold medal in Beijing, Misty May-Treanor was ready to retire. She came home from Beijing, and ruptured her Achilles while rehearsing for Dancing With The Stars: a return to the Olympics seemed unlikely. But as London approached, May-Treanor’s competitive fire reignited, and she reunited with Kerri Walsh, her long-time playing partner, to give a beach volleyball three-peat a shot. May-Treanor, who turns 35 on July 30, talked to TIME about her return to the popular sport — a prime-time staple in NBC‘s Olympics coverage — her chemistry with Walsh, and the role of sex appeal in beach volleyball.
Why are you returning to Olympic competition?
We know we still have it inside of us. The world of beach volleyball is growing, but Kerri and I have something special. We’re still hungry.
Why are you still hungry?
The main thing is, you’ve got to love what you do. No matter what kind of job, you should enjoy what you’re doing. And that’s the biggest thing. We enjoy working together. We love our job, it’s fun. That’s what keeps us going. When you’re at the point where you just like, ‘I hate this,” why do it?
You and Kerri, 33, have been together so long – can you read her better than you did four years ago?
When things aren’t set on the court, it’s like, OK, I can feel her here. I know what her next move’s going to be. We’re working on getting that back, it’s coming together. We hadn’t played together for two years. But it’s always something there because we have that experience. We’ve been though so many things.
Since Beijing, Kerri has given birth to two children. Do her family commitments make training more difficult.
For both of us, life has changed. We have other things to focus on. One, family takes precedence over everything. We have to organize time better. Our schedule has to be a little more flexible. With what we do, it’s fine.
One thing you’ve focused on is raising awareness about the dangers of nasal allergies through a campaign called Ditch the Drip; when you first got to Beijing, you couldn’t breathe because of your allergies. What’s your message?
Go get them checked out before they start something else – something worse.
How has life changed for you over the last four years?
I came back form the Achilles injury. That’s big. Sometimes players get an Achilles injury, and they’re not the same. My leap will never be the same. So you learn to adapt.
When beach volleyball debuted in 1996, critics chirped that the sport used sex appeal to get ratings. That sentiment is still out there – what’s your response to it?
It’s something that probably won’t go away. But it’s funny how people change their tune when they come out to an event. They’re like, “Whoa. They’re athletic.’” They talk about sex appeal because of our uniforms. Well, in gymnastics, young girls are in leotards. For us, a bathing suit is functional, for the types of movements we do in the sand. It’s something I grew up on. People are like, “oh, you play in a bikini.’” But no, they’re really our uniforms.
We get a lot of that. But less and less people talk about it now, because they’ve experienced an event.
What are you looking forward to in London?
I’m excited that the [beach volleyball] venue is right outside [Buckingham] palace. I bought a ticket for the Queen, if she wants to come cheer the USA on.
You’re not serious, right?
I wish. But come on, Queen. Bring everybody.