Pac-10 Olympic Spotlight: Volleyball
Aug. 21, 2008
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2008 Pac-10 Olympic Accomplishments - Aug. 21
- The United States women's soccer team, which includes assistant coach Jillian Ellis of UCLA, won the Gold with a 1-0 victory over Brazil.
- The United States softball team, comprised of several former Pac-10 athletes, was the heavy favorite to win the Gold, but fell to Japan in the final 3-1 to take home the silver medal.
- The United States women's volleyball team defeated Cuba on Thursday in three sets to advance to the gold medal final against Brazil and guaranteeing them their best finish since 1984.
PAC-10 OLYMPIC PARTICIPANT SPOTLIGHT:
PAC-10 ATHLETE: Kerri Walsh
PAC-10 INSTITUTION: Stanford
CURRENT OR FORMER ATHLETE: Former Athlete (`96-99)
OLYMPIC EVENT(S): U.S. Beach Volleyball
(Courtesy of Alan Abrahamson, NBCOlympics.com)
BEIJING -- The image of beach volleyball, the piece of California culture that has raced around the world, is of course the promise of endless summer -- the ripped guys, the bikini-clad girls, the smell of suntan lotion, all of that.
In a driving, relentless rain better suited for football, or maybe orienteering, Americans Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor on Thursday defeated the Chinese duo of Tian Jia and Wang Jie to win the gold medal in women's beach volleyball at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
And prove, emphatically, so much more. For this match, when they write the history of beach volleyball, will forever be a turning point. Because beach volleyball is so much more than endless summer. It is ferocious athletic competition of the highest order.
The diehards, their coolers at the ready on the sand back in Hermosa or Huntington, knew that already. But this -- this was there for all the world to see, and appreciate, the best of what beach volleyball is about, far away from a beach and on the farthest thing from a beachy keen day, shown during prime time back home in the States, broadcast here in China and elsewhere to millions more.
Walsh and May-Treanor weathered everything Tian and Wang, and a rowdy if rain-soaked home crowd, could throw at them. They prevailed 21-18, 21-18.
In winning, May-Treanor and Walsh repeated as Olympic champions. No team had ever before done so.
Moreover, just as they did in Athens in 2004, Walsh and May-Treanor at these 2008 Olympics not only did not lose a match, they did not even drop a single set -- a phenomenal achievement because the caliber of beach play has improved significantly since 2004.
The victory Thursday unequivocally establishes Walsh, 30, and May-Treanor, 31, as the greatest beach volleyball team of all time.
Others certainly stand as greats on various teams -- for instance, Karch Kiraly, a three-time Olympic gold medalist, twice in indoor volleyball,and 1996 in beach.
But, male or female, no one has matched Walsh or May-Treanor.
In winning Thursday, they not only returned to the gold-medal stand, they:
- Won their 108th straight match.
- Won May-Treanor's 103rd career tournament.
- Won Walsh's 100th career tournament.
Afterward, each talked about wanting to start a family. Walsh is married to another pro volleyballer, Casey Jennings; May-Treanor is married to Matt Treanor of the Florida Marlins.
Maybe Walsh and May-Treanor will be back at the Olympics in 2012. Maybe not.'There are so many amazing players that came before us and girls yet to come,' Walsh said. 'But I'm so proud of what we've done.
'Everyone talks about streaks and records, and now we really are,' she said, patting her gold medal, 'in the history books.'
May-Treanor said, 'We're making footprints of our own.'
The last time Walsh and May-Treanor had lost in an international match had been against the same Chinese pair, in July 2007, at a tournament in Norway. If anything speaks to the way beach volleyball has gotten tougher since Athens, that's it right there.
Chinese beach volleyball players? Who are good? Believe it.
The bronze medalists at this Olympic tournament: China's Xue Chen and Zhang Xi, who earlier Thursday defeated Brazilians Talita Antunes and Renata Ribeiro, 21-19, 21-17.The rain Thursday at Chaoyang Park came down hard -- a rain so severe that, over at BMX, which also has that California vibe, they postponed Thursday's action. Walsh and May-Treanor had made a point of saying beforehand that they practice in the rain.They also, as beach junkies knew, had played over the years in other adverse weather. In Marseilles, France, for instance, in howling winds. In Hong Kong in sweltering heat and humidity.
But those matches were not played under the glareof Olympic gold.
'I think it's harder being a fan sitting out in the rain than being a player,' May-Treanor said, adding with a big smile, 'This is just another reason why we play in bathing suits.'
'The rain made it a little more special, a little more romantic out there,' Walsh said. 'You feel like you're a warrior out there, battling the elements.'
The first game proved taut, the two sides exchanging the lead, until 17, when the Americans ripped off three straight points. The Chinese saved one set point on brilliant teamwork -- Wang dropping the ball down the line off a set from Tian on her knees -- before the Americans closed it out.
The second set, again, proved back and forth. Tied at 11, at 12, at 13, 14, 15.The Americans then won the next two and Tian called a five-minute medical timeout. Maybe she needed the work -- her left forearm and elbow got rubbed. Or maybe she just wanted to blunt the momentum.
When play resumed, a Tian dink shot, right to left, made it 17-16. On the next point, Wang, apparently thinking it was the third touch, not the second, tried to muscle the ball over while falling backwards -- but the ball fell into the net.18-16, Americans.
The Chinese, however, took the next two. The score was tied again, now at 18.'I knew they'd be extremely tough,' Walsh said. 'I knew they'd be relentless and they were.'
No one in beach volleyball history has proven more relentless, however, than Walsh and May-Treanor. They won the next three points, Walsh sealing the match with a slam straight down the center, and as the ball hit the wet sand, so, too, on the other side, did Walsh and May-Treanor, hugging each other in relief and joy and pride.They had won again. And done so much more.
'It's so poignant,' Wash said. 'It's so deep inside. We're older now. We can appreciate this. Athens was just an adrenaline rush, lightning in a bottle. This is more like soulful. It's wonderful.'
|PAC-10 MEDAL COUNT (as of August 21, 2008)|
|PAC-10 MEDAL COUNT* (as of August 21, 2008)|
*Pac-10 Medal Count reflects individual medals as well as medals won as part of a team effort.
Click Here for a complete breakdown of Pac-10 Olympic Medals by sport.