A week ago, it was a foregone conclusion that Misty May and Kerri Walsh would win the Olympic gold medal in women's volleyball, but a couple of women's teams have different ideas as they begin play today at the AVP Nissan Series San Diego Open.
Annett Davis and Jenny Johnson Jordan defeated May and Walsh in a semifinal last Sunday at Manhattan Beach, ending a 15-tournament win streak by the world's top-ranked team.
Holly McPeak and Elaine Youngs then defeated Davis and Johnson Jordan in the final.
"I think all of us know how close we are," McPeak said. "Misty and Kerri have just been playing better under pressure. They've been playing good volleyball, but we believe in ourselves."
McPeak and Youngs have been playing the best volleyball lately. They won the San Diego Open last year, and McPeak was within one victory of the all-time women's record. Then they went nearly a year without a title.
The way May and Walsh were going, it didn't look as though McPeak and Youngs would break through, but they won an Olympic qualifying event in China the week before their Manhattan Beach championship. Now, McPeak and Youngs have the longest title streak in the game: two.
"On paper," May and Walsh are going to win the gold, "according to everybody," Youngs said. "But guess what? The last two Olympics, the gold-medal favorites haven't won, so there's still a long way to go on that one."
May and Walsh have withdrawn from the San Diego event because of an injury to May. There are four Olympic qualifying events remaining before the July 11 deadline to qualify. The men's field is watered down slightly this week because three top teams are playing in an Olympic qualifying event in Puerto Rico. Dain Blanton and Jeff Nygaard, Stein Metzger and Dax Holdren, and Todd Rogers and Sean Scott will miss the San Diego event.
Teams trying for Olympic berths were granted an extra opportunity to accrue points Wednesday when the international volleyball federation (FIVB) moved the Spanish Open to July 6-11 and included women's as well as men's events.
The Spanish Open was originally scheduled for men only in September, after the Olympics. That changed when the Canadian Open was canceled in April because of logistical problems. Now, the Spanish Open will be the last Olympic qualifying event before the qualifying deadline.
"We hope the players can benefit from this opportunity given by the FIVB and the organizer as the race for Olympic spots heats up," Ruben Acosta Hernandez, volleyball federation president, said in a statement.
Teams accumulate Olympic qualifying points based on their best eight finishes in FIVB events. Only two teams from each country qualify, and the extra event could have an impact on the U.S. qualifiers, who are in close races.
May and Walsh have clinched one women's berth. McPeak and Youngs have only a 32-point lead over Davis and Johnson Jordan. Blanton and Nygaard are the top men's team, with 2,188 points. Rogers and Scott are second with 1,624, and Holdren and Metzger third with 1,512.