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By Jim Caple
I thought there was no crying in beach volleyball.
This is a sport of sand, bikinis, dance teams, sunscreen, music and laughter. But after completing a 12-year journey on a little stretch of Southern California-like beach imported to within sight and sound of Big Ben, Kerri Walsh Jennings was sobbing and hugging Misty May-Treanor as if she was never going to see her again.
She will, though. Just not on the sand of an Olympic venue with a pair of intimidated competitors on the other side of the net. Beach volleyball's best, most famous team went out the way it wanted to by winning its third gold medal on a sublime summer night at the Horse Guards Parade venue. "Our competitive journey is done and that's a big deal that just crushes me," Walsh Jennings said. "But the next stage is going to be so fun. We're going to be able to be girlfriends and just share each other's families and each other's lives."
"The first two gold medals it was more about volleyball," May Treanor said. "The friendship we had was there, but it was volleyball, volleyball, volleyball. This was so much more about the friendship, the togetherness, the journey — and volleyball was just a small part of it."
The two have never lost a match in Olympic play, going 21-0, and dropping only one set ("That pissed me off for a day and a half,'' Walsh Jennings joked). They won their gold by beating a familiar duo, Americans Jen Kessy and April Ross, in a U.S.-versus-U.S. finale. Under such a scenario, Prime Minister David Cameron, whose No. 10 Downing Street residence is literally across the street, must have really found the endless soundtrack of "Moves Like Jagger" and "Party Rock Anthem" extremely annoying. Or perhaps it was more irritating for him to hear "The Star-Spangled Banner" played during the medal ceremony when two American teams took the top two steps on the podium.
Kessy estimated the two teams have played each other "a gazillion times" over the years, though that statistic has yet to be confirmed by Elias. "We're definitely on the losing side of that battle," Kessy said. "But they are the best team of all time, so it doesn't feel too bad being second to them right now."
Read on for more.
When May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings first partnered after the 2000 Olympics, they were just May and Walsh, two single young women determined to overcome disappointing performances in Sydney to become gold medalists. Over the next 12 years, they played and won all over the world — in Athens, Beijing, London, even under the Eiffel Tower. They also grew as people. Both have married and Walsh Jennings has had two children.
The two also split briefly after the Beijing Olympics when Walsh Jennings started her family and May-Treanor tore her Achilles tendon. Due to the resulting timing issues, they played with other partners before reuniting two years ago, determined to go out with a gold medal in London. "Two years ago when we put ourselves back together we had this painting we envisioned," May-Treanor said. "And through this whole tournament I'm like, 'We're painting it, but we're not finished yet.' Well, we finally finished it and we saw ourselves exactly like this on the podium."
Each set started off close Wednesday, with the two pairs matching each other point for point. But May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings eventually pulled away in each, winning 21-16, 21-16. Kessy and Ross said that the best team ever simply raised its game to an even higher level. "We have lived so much life together in the last 12 years, but especially in the last two years," Walsh Jennings said. "We wanted to win a gold medal, but we wanted to do it in a certain fashion. We wanted to stay so connected and create a bond that was unbreakable."
May-Treanor figured her career was over after Beijing, but she said it definitely is now. Really. She means it this time. For one thing, she's 35. "It's time for me to be a wife. I want to be a mom. And share time with my family. All of us athletes sacrifice more on the family end than maybe we realize," she said. "My mind says it's time, my body says it's time and it's the right time. This is my last match. It's time for me to help the next generation."
Walsh, who turns 34 next week, still plans to continue playing, perhaps even teaming with Ross, though she declined to speculate on future partners when it was time to celebrate with someone who has been so much more to her over the past dozen years. "I'm proud to finish the journey with Misty," she said, turning to May-Treanor. "It's been 11 years of really fun and crazy times. She's the best there ever has been. And for me to be able to play with her so long and be able to call her a friend and a sister is the biggest gift ever. And I'm glad you went out the way you did."
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