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Beach Bash for U.S. Women

Walsh and May win gold in straight sets; rivals and teammates McPeak and Youngs take the bronze as Americans dominate on the sand.

August 25, 2004|Alan Abrahamson | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — Kerri Walsh and Misty May won the gold medal Tuesday in beach volleyball, and Holly McPeak and Elaine Youngs won bronze, the first medals won by U.S. women's teams in the sport that started on the sands of Southern California.

On the medal stand there were hugs, goofy grins, kicks for joy, looks of disbelief and wonder, the four of them, rivals but friends, embracing each other and the silver medalists, Shelda Bede and Adriana Behar of Brazil.

"It still feels like a dream," May said afterward, looking at her gold medal.

For May, the victory ended doubts about whether she'd be able to overcome a recurring abdomen injury. Before the Olympics, May said the injury, which had forced the team to forfeit the finals of the Hermosa Beach tournament in late July, wouldn't be an issue at the Games. It wasn't -- May and Walsh didn't lose a set in seven matches in Athens.

"I knew Misty would be back," Walsh said.

For McPeak, who had finished fifth at Atlanta in 1996 playing with Nancy Reno and fifth again at Sydney in 2000 with May, bronze was sweet indeed.

"Three Olympics -- she deserves this," Youngs said.

Said McPeak: "It's a dream come true."

In the bronze-medal match, McPeak and Youngs needed three sets to top Natalie Cook and Nicole Sanderson of Australia, 21-18, 15-21, 15-9.

Cook, a gold medalist in Sydney with a different partner, had played the tournament with a torn right rotator cuff suffered earlier this year; she re-injured the shoulder late in the second set. For most of the third, she served underhand.

The Americans, showing no pity, served over and again to her -- knowing that if Cook could manage to return serve, it would leave Sanderson to set on a second shot, leaving Cook on a third shot to offer only taps over the net, not spikes.

"I keep looking at the [bronze] medal and going, wow!" McPeak said. "We really have one. It's so exciting."

In the gold-medal match, May and Walsh made it look easy, winning in straight sets, 21-17, 21-11.

Shelda and Adriana, as they are commonly known, first-name only, like many Brazilian sports stars, took silver in Sydney as well. May and Walsh had played the Brazilians 20 times in the last three years, winning 13. All but one of those losses came before 2003. May and Walsh had won the last six matches.

"They are very, very good," Adriana said. "To beat them we had to play perfectly."

Walsh and May are 53-2 in international play since July 5, 2003; both losses were injury-related forfeits. Until a loss earlier this year, they had won 90 straight matches on the professional circuit.

Then came May's injury, and questions about whether it might strain her relationship with Walsh.

"A lot of people had doubts," May said. "I tried to tell them I had no doubts."

For anyone who might still be doubting, May is getting married Nov. 13 in Orange County to Matt Treanor, a catcher in the Florida Marlins' system. May said proudly Tuesday that Walsh was one of her bridesmaids.

The bridesmaid's dress is a beautiful light pink, Walsh said. "I was so flattered she asked me," she said.

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