The road to the Olympic medal podium has always seemed to be paved with gold for U. S. women’s beach volleyball stars Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings. And London was certainly not any different. The pair once again found themselves on the brink of yet another golden Olympic moment and rose to the occasion. Of course, with May-Treanor announcing her retirement from Olympic competition after this year, ending their run with the gold seemed appropriate for one of the most dominant women’s beach volleyball duos of all time.
In their opening match on July 28, May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings faced off against Australia’s Natalie Cook and Tamsin Hinchley. Unlike previous Olympic match-ups, however, the duo actually had some stiff competition in front of them. Cook and Hinchley managed to keep the game close, tying May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings at 18-all in the first game, before the Americans finally pulled away. In the second game, MIsty and Kerri trailed 13-9 and 16-14 before pulling away from a 19-all tie to advance to the next round.
On July 30, against Kristyna Kolocova and Marketa Slukova of the Czech Republic, the Americans nearly saw their consecutive win streak come to an end. May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings won the first game quite handily, 21-14, but the second set wasn’t so easy. Trailing for much of the game, the Americans found themselves behind, 18-15, before calling a time out. They bounced back with three straight points to tie it up. The Czech’s took the lead with the next point, but Misty and Kerri weren’t about to have their perfect Olympic record snapped. The duo went on a 3-0 run to end the game and remain perfect.
The perfection was short-lived in the London games, however. May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings had never lost an Olympic set before they squared off against the Austrian Schwaiger sisters, Doris and Stefanie, on Aug. 1. While I’m not sure if it was the shirts and pants – as opposed to the usual bikinis – they were donning or what, but the Americans seemed off in the first set. Though they tried to keep up, May-Treanor and Walsh ended up losing, 21-17. The fact that they were no longer “perfect” seemed to infuriate the duo, however, as they came back with a vengeance, winning the next set, 21-8, and the third, 15-10, to take the match and advance to the quarterfinals.
The two-time defending gold medalists breezed through the quarterfinal match on Aug. 5, defeating Italy’s Greta Cicolari and Marta Menegatti in just over 30 minutes. May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings were red-hot and relentless, winning both sets, 21-13. Menegatti, who is only 21, seemed dumbfounded by the Americans’ defense. Between Kerri’s blocks and Misty’s amazing digs, the young Italian’s attack game was shut down, which actually brought her to tears during a second set time out. Not surprisingly, the Americans moved on to the semi-final match against a stellar Chinese team.
Next up for May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings were Beijing bronze medalists Xue Chen and Zhang Xi. Giving up the first three points of the set, the Americans fell behind, 8-13, eventually closing the gap to 16-17, before winning, 22-20. Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor held a slight lead during most of the second set. China took the lead at 17-16, which resulted in the Americans calling a time out. Following the break and down 18-19, Kerri and Misty stayed focused. After setting up a match point situation, Walsh Jennings came up with a crucial block that put the ball in the sand and gave the Americans a 22-20 victory.
It was determined later on Tuesday night that the United States was guaranteed both a gold and a silver medal in women’s beach volleyball. Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor learned they would face fellow Americans Jennifer Kessy and April Ross in the final after they defeated the reigning world champion Brazilian team of Juliana Felisberta and Larissa Franca, 15-21, 21-19, 15-12.
Though not nearly as close as I expected it would be, the final was definitely filled with excitement. Kessy and Ross put up quite a fight and gave the reigning Olympic champions a run for their money. The first set was extremely close before Kerri and Misty pulled away toward the end to win, 21-16. The second set went about the same with both American teams going back and forth with the lead. Nevertheless, May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings had great placement for several kills while Kessy and Ross missed a few critical opportunities to capitalize. Even before the second match point was served, few doubted May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings would be vicarious. So, when Ross’ serve went long, the crowd at Horse Guards Parade erupted and Misty deservedly took a victory lap.
I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I thought the outcome of Wednesday’s match was perfect; it was nice to see Kerri and Misty go out on top with the team’s third consecutive gold medal. While it’s rather sad knowing they won’t win a fourth together, it has truly been a joy watching them compete over the years. Just as I picture Karch Kiraly in his bright pink cap when I think of men’s beach volleyball, any mention of women’s beach volleyball in the future is likely to bring back fond memories of Misty and Kerri.