This was the end. But the end was golden.
In two straights sets against American rivals Jennifer Kessey and April Ross, May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings, the most successful women’s Olympic volleyball team of all time, captured their third consecutive gold medal, in their last match together.
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May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings finish 21-0 in Olympic play, having lost only one set to an opponent. May-Treanor, 35, said before the London Games that this would be her last run in competitive volleyball, as she retires from the sport.
“I’m really proud of finishing the journey with Misty the way we finished it,” said Walsh, tearing up while wearing her gold medal before turning to May-Treanor.
“I’m glad you went out the way you deserved to.”
May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings defeated Ross and Kessy in two sets, 21-16 and 21-18, in London on Wednesday.
The first set was point-for-point until a May-Treanor kill at 15-13. She and Walsh Jennings confidently cruised to a 21-16 win, playing mistake-free volleyball in stark contrast to their first-set struggles against China in the semifinals.
The second set began in much the same manner until 9-9; after that, Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor didn’t surrender the lead.
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Their 20th point was on an emphatic Walsh Jennings block that sent her leaping around the sand. The match point saw Ross send the ball out of bounds on a serve, sending the champions into celebration — including May-Treanor’s trademark “running man” dance near the stands at the end.
“They were tough to stop. They didn’t make any mistakes at all. My hat’s off to them,” said Kessy, who was proud of her team’s Olympic silver. “We’re going to be wearing these medals when we’re old ladies, drinking by the fire.”
The women’s beach volleyball’s gold-medal match featured one of the London Games’ most enticing storylines: The most successful team in the sport’s Olympic history playing in its last match together, facing fellow Americans that had thrived in its shadow for years.
After their upset of top-ranked Brazil, Kessy said the notion that she and Ross were “the other U.S. team” was permanently dispelled. “No way. We are our own team,” she said Tuesday night.
When asked if she and Ross were spoilers for May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings’ last match, Kessy said: “They’ve gotten their two gold medals. We’re not spoiling anything.”
In the end, they didn’t. Not on a night when the champs decided to cement their legacy with an efficient, confident performance.
It was the final chapter for May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings, a duo who helped bring women’s beach volleyball to prominence for American fans.
Their bikini-clad matches in Beijing drew big ratings in the U.S. and NBA players to the beach court in China. They became the faces of the sport; May-Treanor even parlayed it into an appearance on “Dancing With The Stars.”
After their second Olympic gold medal in Beijing, they split as a team so Walsh Jennings could start a family. They reunited in 2011 for another Olympic push, but their journey to London wasn’t an easy one — Ross and Kessy were actually ranked higher on the FIVB World Tour — and May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings sought help from the sports psychologist to help them “reconnect” as partners.
“We’re out here for a reason: To be together, and to stand at the top of the podium,” said May-Treanor after defeating China.
And that’s where they ended their 11-year journey, gold around their necks for a third time.
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Related Olympics coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
• Elite Athlete Workouts: Kerri Walsh Jennings balances the Olympics with motherhood
• How members of Team USA men’s basketball helped Misty and Kerri warm up
• U.S. beach volleyball duo talks marriage counseling