LONDON — What were the odds that they would be anywhere near Big Ben this week, much less atop the podium? After Missy May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh won their second beach volleyball gold medal in Beijing, Walsh had borne two sons and May-Treanor had torn an Achilles’ rehearsing for Dancing With the Stars. Just making it back to Olympus seemed a fantasy. But a third gold?
“It’s insane,” the 33-year-old Walsh declared after she and her 35-year-old partner had knocked off fellow Yanks Jennifer Kessy and April Ross, 21-16, 21-16 in the sandbox at Horse Guards Parade to pull off a most unlikely but extraordinarily satisfying three-peat. “It doesn’t feel real. I am scared that I might wake up tomorrow and discover that we have to replay that match. It didn’t feel like that last time.”
Last time she and May-Treanor had to take care of China’s Tian Jia and Wang Jie in their own playpen. This time, they were in a win-win situation with the US assured of gold and silver at the Games for the first time. “I wish it would have been a bit more of a show, but this silver medal sure feels good around my neck,” conceded Kessy, who was making her Olympic debut with Ross after failing to qualify four years ago.
It was the first time since the sport was added to the program in 1996 that the Americans had gone 1-2 and it was a declarative statement for the country that invented the sport nearly a century ago on the Santa Monica shore. “For the four of us to meet in a gold-medal match says a lot,” said May-Treanor.
Kessy and Ross, who won the world title in 2009, have been together for half a dozen years. But May-Treanor and Walsh, who’d ruled the planet between 2003 and 2008, didn’t get back together until last year. They were like a married couple, they said, even going to joint counseling with sports psychologist Michael Gervais to put them back on the same page for the Games.
Once they walked into the place where King Henry VIII once staged jousts, they got their five-ringed mojo back and synched up as though they were a sister act. “They are the best team of all-time,” said Kessy, “and it doesn’t hurt too bad to be second to them.”
Nor were the Brazilians arguing after they’d come from a set down to beat the Chinese for the bronze. “The gold, we could not make it but we did our very best,” said Larissa, after she and Juliana had taken an 11-21, 21-19, 15-12 decision over Beijing bronze medalists Zhang Xi and Xue Chen. “We have the bronze and it tastes super.”
Kessy and Ross had stunned the Brazilians in the semis as part of their out-from-under run to the title match, during which they played a couple of three-set matches just to get to the round of 16, then had a 25-23, 21-18 bloodletting with the Czechs to make the medal round. “We could have lost to the Spaniards, we could have lost to the Czechs, we could have gone down to the Brazilians last night,” mused Ross.
Beating May-Treanor and Walsh, though, was a tall order. The two-time defending champions had beaten Kessy and Ross in two of their previous 13 meetings and they did their best to pound their old friends and rivals into the sand. Not that it was easy, even though the proceedings took only 38 minutes. Kessy and Ross grabbed a 3-1 lead and were within a point until May-Treanor and Walsh ran off 4 to go up, 19-14, and went on to close out the opening set.
Not that being down was an unfamiliar position for Kessy and Ross. “That’s how we play,” said Ross. “We’re underdogs.” But May-Treanor and Walsh never had dropped a set in a final and the one they’d given up to the Austrians in the prelims had irked them. “It [ticked] me off for a day and half,” Walsh said, laughing.
Kessy and Ross fought gamely in the second set and were down only 15-14. But a service fault by Ross gave their opponents an opening, Walsh responded with an ace and that was that. “They didn’t give us an inch,” said Kessy.
That was how May-Treanor and Walsh played since they first hooked up and that’s how they went out. “It’s been 11 years of fun and crazy time,” said Walsh, who had one son in each arm as she waited for the final medal ceremony of their career. Three anthems was a dream farewell. “It is my last match, but I’m OK with slipping away because this has been a special finale,” said May-Treanor. “Whether we had finished on top or not, the thing that I’m proud of is sticking together.”