Friday, August 22, 2008

BEIJING | Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor were prepared for the downpour, just as they were for a young Chinese team that was the latest to challenge their four-year reign over women’s beach volleyball.

”This is just another reason why we play in bathing suits,” May-Treanor said.

Ignoring the rain that drenched their uniforms and left them squinting into the sky where the sun should be, Walsh and May-Treanor won their second consecutive gold medal Thursday by beating China in straight sets. It was the 108th consecutive victory overall and 14th straight at the Olympics for the Americans, who did not lose a set in either Athens or Beijing.

“I dreamt about rain last night. It could have been 500 degrees or 500 below, and we’d be happy,” Walsh said, after beating Wang Jie and Tian Jia 21-18, 21-18. “The rain makes it better. We felt like warriors out there.”

Known as “Six Feet of Sunshine” for her bubbly smile, Walsh’s personality 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.

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.

It was no problem for the Americans.

And neither were the Chinese.

“The American team is better than we are,” said Tian, whose country had never won a beach volleyball medal before picking up a bronze and a silver at home. “They are more experienced and stronger. But we have made great strides for these Olympic Games. This is the best that we could do.”

Earlier, in a matchup of the second-best women’s teams from Brazil and China, Xue Chen and Zhang Xi won the bronze medal, beating Talita and Renata 21-19, 21-17.

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.

Among Walsh’s supporters in Beijing was her husband, Casey Jennings, a fellow beach volleyball pro who failed to qualify for the Beijing Games but made the trip anyway to cheer on his wife. But an hour after the victory May-Treanor hadn’t even talked to her husband, let alone seen him.

The former Misty May is married to Matt Treanor, who is a catcher for the Florida Marlins and thus spends most of his summer playing and traveling, just like his wife. The two usually spend just a few days together from February to November, when both sports are in season, and that more than anything else could break up the most dominant pair in the history of women’s beach volleyball.

“I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. But it’s the careers we have and we have to make the best of it,” she said. “I’d like to see my husband for more than a day. It would be nice to walk in the door and say, ‘Honey, what’s for dinner,’ instead of having to make food for myself.”

Both Walsh and May-Treanor said they want to have babies soon after the games, and if all goes well they would take 2009 off. That would still leave them plenty of time to get back into shape and qualify for the 2012 games in London — if they want to.

“I want to start a family and, like Kerri said, we’re not in a rush to get back,” May-Treanor said. “Everybody keeps bringing up 2012, but let us enjoy this one first.”

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