TOKYO – Kelsey Robinson won’t say her top-ranked U.S. volleyball squad is the favorite to win gold at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
She’s been down that road before, and it left her with heartbreak. The memory of a 2016 Olympic semifinal loss to Serbia, which led to a bronze medal five years ago in Rio de Janeiro, is all the motivation she needs.
“We had a really talented team then,” Robinson said, “and we have a really talented team this year, too.”
The journey since then, at least on the volleyball court, couldn’t have been much sweeter for the 29-year-old Bartlett native. Robinson has won three Volleyball Nations League championships with the U.S. team and was a leader on the national squad that earned silver at the 2019 FIVB World Cup. She was named best outside hitter and best receiver at the latter tournament.
Her professional career has taken her to China, Italy, Turkey and Japan during that time, and she’s won a bevy of championships and most valuable player honors.
But something golden is still missing for the St. Francis grad.
Being the favorite, as any athlete will attest, is no easy task. With the U.S. women fresh off a gold medal at an international championship in Italy last month and again sitting on top of the world rankings, Robinson insists she’s looking past the pressure.
“I want to do more this time,” she said after the Americans defeated China in straight sets July 26 to move to 2-0. “We have a goal here as a team but we have to take it step by step and not get ahead of ourselves.”
If Robinson and Co. reach their goal in Tokyo, they’ll make history. As strong as the U.S. women have been in the 13 Olympic volleyball tournaments over the past 57 years, they’ve never won gold. As one of four returning players from 2016 on this summer’s squad of 12 women, Robinson said she feels responsible to be a leader.
She is determined to win gold before hanging her knee pads up for good.
Perhaps thankfully, the unusual circumstances surrounding this year’s Games has made staying on task much easier. COVID-19 restrictions at the Olympics limit athletes to training and competing. Away from the court, most athletes kick back and relax in the Olympic Village bubble.
Robinson and her teammates have done little besides practice and play. Off the court, her favorite part of Tokyo so far was walking in the opening ceremony. She said she misses the raucous crowds that filled her matches during the Rio de Janeiro games in 2016 but has become accustomed to almost 18 months of playing without them.
Asked what a gold medal in Tokyo would mean, Robinson didn’t hold back.
“Everything,” she said. “This is why we’re here and it’s one of the reasons we dedicate so much of our lives to this sport.”
Robinson and the U.S. women continue pool play July 29 against Turkey.