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Walsh, May-Treanor win beach volley gold

August 20, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Chinese and the wretched Beijing weather were no match for Misty May-Treanor and "Six Feet of Sunshine." May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh won their second consecutive gold medal in beach volleyball Thursday, playing through a steady and sometimes driving rain to beat China in straight sets and extend their winning streak to 108 matches in a row.

"Ever since the ball dropped in Athens, we've wanted to repeat as Olympic champions," May-Treanor said. "No one's ever done it."

No one's ever won 14 consecutive Olympic matches before, either, sweeping away their opponents in both Beijing and Athens without losing a single set. The Americans beat Wang Jie and Tian Jia 21-18, 21-18 on Thursday, playing through smog and swelter and a drenching gold medal game to confirm their dominance of the sport.

"The rain makes it better. We felt like warriors out there," Walsh shouted afterward, unable to contain the California girl enthusiasm that earned her the nickname "Six Feet of Sunshine." "Athens was just pure excitement. The pressure of this situation is real, and it was heavy, and it was loud. And we beat China at home, under crazy conditions."

Walsh's bubbly smile couldn't part the clouds that drenched the Chaoyang Park venue for the bronze- and gold-medal matches. It was no day to be at the beach - not for Wang and Tian, and not for the fans who huddled under pastel ponchos and umbrellas that, on a day more appropriate for sun and sand, would be used as parasols.

But the 12,200-seat venue was packed, the dancers in bikinis jiggled to rock music and the players pressed on without concern for the weather. The wet and heavy ball forced them to bump-set instead of doing it over their heads, and the sometimes driving rain made it difficult to look up to receive passes.

"I dreamt about rain last night," Walsh said. "It could have been 500 degrees or 500 below, and we'd be happy."

Earlier Thursday, in a matchup of the second-best teams from Brazil and China, Xue Chen and Zhang Xi won the host country's first beach volleyball medal, beating Talita and Renata 21-19, 21-17 for the bronze.

Walsh put an early end to China's hopes for adding a gold when she quick-hit May-Treanor's pass between Wang and Tian. The Americans dropped to their knees on the wet sand, hugging each other before shaking hands with the officials and running to the stands to embrace their friends and families.

They were still celebrating, wrapping themselves in U.S. flags, as organizers worked through the rain to set up the podium for the medal ceremony. Walsh bounced up and down while her name was announced in Chinese, waiting for the English translation before jumping onto the top level of the podium.

"I still feel like a little girl," she said. "I'm so happy. I'm just the happiest girl in the world."

The Americans cruised through the two-year qualifying process in a year, giving Walsh a break this spring to recover from offseason shoulder surgery. Managing the pain with massages and a special tape that is said to increase blood flow, Walsh showed no signs of wear.

The Americans scored three straight points to break a 17-17 tie in the first. China survived one set point before May-Treanor spiked one down the line for the winner.

In the second, the Americans turned a 15-14 deficit into a 17-15 lead when Tian called a medical timeout. As she sat under the canopy that covers the bench, a trainer massaged her left arm before sending her back to the sand.

It was 18-all when the Americans scored the last three points to win.

"The American team is better than we are," Tian said. "They are more experienced and stronger. But we have made great strides for these Olympic Games. This is the best that we could do."

 

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