A gold-medal performance to savor
The greatest duo in beach volleyball history did what no other team had done before, seizing their second straight gold medal despite mush-pocked sand and a pelting rain that drove a sellout crowd to retreat under ponchos and umbrellas. Walsh ended a pair of 21-18 set victories with a crushing spike between China’s Tian Jia and Wang Jie, extending Walsh’s and May-Treanor’s stunning streak of consecutive wins to 108 matches and counting.
Two golds, 108 wins and not a single lost set in Beijing … beach volleyball fans should soak it all in, because the future of this pairing looks as ominous as the sky they played beneath Friday.
“I want to take 2009 off,” Walsh said afterward. “I want to have a baby, and then come back.”
“We both want to have children,” May-Treanor added. “… You never know after that. I’ve never had a child before. I thought I’d come back in 2012. (But) it’s a different priority. I’d like to give it a year. I’d like to coach and teach. I’d like to go back and get my master’s (degree). A lot of women have had children and then rushed to get back. I’d like to spend time and see the child grow.
“First thing’s first.”
Whatever happens with the duo, the world got an eyeful of both the past and future Thursday. For everything Walsh and May-Treanor have carved out in the sport, China’s fast emergence foretells a changing of the guard over the next four years. In a sport that has been dominated by the United States and Brazil, the Chinese have seen a meteoric rise over the last year, culminating in the country’s proudest moment in the sport Thursday.
So while Walsh bounded like a pogo stick before hopping to the top of the medal stand Thursday, she landed between four Chinese women that appear ready to take over the sport if and when the Americans split up.
“Our leaders and the coaches of the national team have increased their support and financial input into this game,” Wang said through a translator. “That’s why we have been able to achieve these results. Today we have created a historical breakthrough in this beach volleyball game.”
All year long, Walsh and May-Treanor saw Thursday’s matchup coming, particularly after watching the Chinese chop through quality competition in Beijing, showcasing refined skills typically displayed by only the most seasoned players.
“I can’t even imagine what London is going to be like with these two (Chinese) teams,” Walsh said. “… They’re relentless. The pursuit of greatness is there, and it’s never going to stop. It’s all about setting the bar and resetting it. They’re there. They’re some of the top teams in the world.”
But lest there was any question, the American women weren’t ready to loosen their grip just yet. Walsh and May-Treanor took command when the first set reached its most tense moment – a 17-17 tie that had the Chinese looking ready to hand the Americans their first loss in Beijing. But the U.S. responded with three straight points, eventually closing out the set when May-Treanor hammered the winner down the line.
With raindrops bombarding every upward glance and skin caked with wet sand, the second set wasn’t any easier. The Americans fell behind 15-14, then battled to an 18-18 tie before scoring the last three points and winning on Walsh’s dramatic spike down the middle of the Chinese. It was a gritty victory that harkened back to some of the most grueling conditions in some of their previous international matches – from the lashing wind in Marseille, France, to the oppressive heat in Hong Kong.
“We have seen that the U.S. team indeed has very strong capacity and skills,” Tian said through a translator. “They are a lot better than us. To stick to the final moment is the best we can do.”
Yet, even sticking with the United States almost seemed like a passing of the baton. Particularly when May-Treanor seemed to indicate this would more than likely be her last Olympics. With motherhood ahead for both, neither could give much of a firm commitment. And clearly both appear ready to shuffle their primary concerns.
“You never know after having a child,” May-Treanor said.
“It’s definitely a possibility (that the pair is finished),” Walsh added. “We’re not moms yet. We don’t know how that’s going to change us.”
Whatever lies ahead, their history is secure. The best pairing beach volleyball has known secured the back-to-back gold medals in Athens and Beijing that they coveted. They’ve set the standard. Just as the rest of the world – and China in particular – is coming on fast.