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BILL PLASCHKE

The rain can't stop the reign

August 21, 2008|Bill Plaschke

BEIJING -- The sand was wet, the bikinis were soaked, the cheers were muffled, the sky was falling.

Amid sheets of morning gray, the only thing that made sense was the gold.

It's around the necks today of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, for a second consecutive Olympics, in their 108th consecutive victory.

One day, that medal may even dry.

"This is just another reason why we play in bathing suits," May-Treanor said with a grin.

Just when you thought Southern California's best sports dynasty could spike it no farther, the pair claimed a beach volleyball championship while rolling around under a cold shower with thousands cheering against them.

In a driving rainstorm, the Americans defeated China's Tian Jia and Wang Jie in straight sets, 21-18, 21-18, identical scores for seemingly identical champions.

After playing flawlessly together, Walsh and May-Treanor collapsed in tears together in the sand, hugging for the longest time, one giant white bikini under one giant wet ponytail.

Said Walsh to her teammate: "I don't know what to say, you're so great."

Said May-Treanor later: "Kerri and I love each other."

Then, standing on the podium, just before the playing of the national anthem, Walsh put her hand behind her back and wiggled her fingers.

May-Treanor, standing behind her, reached out and clutched those fingers, the two champions standing hand-in-hand throughout the national anthem.

Said Walsh: "I'm a blessed girl. To have such an amazing partner and do this amazing thing with her . . . so many emotions."

Said May-Treanor: "I thought I wouldn't be as emotional as I was, there's no words to describe this."

Well, here's a word.

Goodbye?

There is some thought that this could be the final act for one of the greatest duos in sports history. Walsh is 30, May-Treanor is 31, both are married and both have said they would like to have children.

Before the Olympics, when asked by Times reporter Chris Hine what they thought they would be doing a year from now, Walsh said, "Hopefully, we'll both be pregnant. Pregnant, but with two gold medals."

Well, now that the pesky medals business has been dealt with, could it be time for the really important stuff?

Watching them work flawlessly together in the worst of conditions -- isn't it dumb that beach volleyball plays in the rain? -- one wonders if this wasn't their farewell.

May-Treanor said afterward she thinks this is her last Olympics, but Walsh wouldn't commit, which means their retirement breakup cannot be official.

But it sure sounds like it.

"I was taking this as my last Games," said May-Treanor. "I was putting everything into it as my last Games. It's too far ahead to look ahead. I would like to come back and have my kids see me play. But I'd like to start a new journey and see my husband too."

If this match was the end of their current journey, it was certainly more fitting than the end of another recent sports dynasty.

The New England Patriots of the beach world didn't blow this Super Bowl, even though most everyone at Chaoyang Park Beach Volleyball Ground was cheering against them.

"Chi-na" shouted the thousands of brightly colored ponchos, their cheers actually led by the public address announcer.

But in the first set, the Americans broke a 17-17 tie to score four of the last five points for the victory, with May-Treanor diving and spiking and dinking.

"They're a lot better than us," said Tian later.

The steady rain worsened in the second set, soaking the leaky facility, water shooting out from underneath the bleachers, drenching the competitors from headband to painted toenails.

Yet the Americans also survived a second-set rally by the Chinese, breaking an 18-18 tie to score the last three points for the match.

"Definitely you didn't want to look up too much," said May-Treanor. "You would lose the ball with rain dropping in your eyes."

The Chinese fans also didn't want to look at their team too much, as Wang and Tian broke the Chinese teamwork tradition by arguing with each other, scowling at each other, and sometimes just ignoring each other.

Walsh and May-Treanor are that good.

When seemingly every spike is returned, when every serve is shot back, when every big effort is rebuffed, well, it's no day at the beach.

"They're too strong," reiterated Tian.

Only in the end did they break down. Perhaps because, for the tough and talented cover girls for Southern California's coolest sport, maybe it really is the end.

"This win really hit me deep, I understand what we did to accomplish this," said Walsh. "We beat China at home. It was so loud out there, and with crazy conditions."

Walsh was so excited, as she walked into the post-match news conference, she screamed. "I apologize for that," she said in her opening statement. "I just had to let it out."

No apology necessary. Of course it was loud. She was screaming for two.

--

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read previous columns by plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.

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