U.S. beach volleyball players Misty May-Treanor, left, and Kerri Walsh… (Petr David Josek / Associated…)
LONDON — The deficits were there, overwhelmingly and stunningly.
They're the reason Kerri Walsh Jennings cried at the end.
Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor came back twice from uniquely ominous places to pull out a 22-20, 22-20 victory in a women's Olympic beach volleyball semifinal match Tuesday against China's Xue Chen and Zhang Xi.
Strikingly, a third gold medal might not be out of the question for the U.S. tandem in its last tournament after 11 years together.
The comeback stories weren't limited to Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor, who will play the U.S. team of April Ross and Jennifer Kessy in the final Wednesday.
Ross and Kessy had lost nine times to Brazil's Larissa Franca and Juliana Silva before finally beating them in the other semifinal amid a steady rain, 15-21, 21-19, 15-12.
Two teams from the same country have not met for a gold medal since Brazil in the sport's Olympic debut in 1996.
"It's going to be crazy," Walsh Jennings said. A victory "is what Misty deserves. It's what we deserve. We're the best team in the world. No disrespect to anyone else, but we know how to beat these teams. We're better than them and now we need to execute."
Just when it appeared May-Treanor, 35, would be done on the sand -- she's retiring from international competition after the Olympics because she wants to start a family -- Walsh Jennings gave her plenty of reasons to stay one more match.
The U.S. was down quickly in the first set against China, 13-7, but Walsh Jennings asserted herself, piling up five kills and four blocks, one of them putting the U.S. ahead, 21-20.
Zhang hit into the net to end the set, giving the U.S. team its largest comeback in a long, long time.
"I couldn't tell you. I have no idea," May-Treanor said.
The U.S. took a 12-8 lead in the second set but couldn't keep it and faced set point, 20-19, after a series of solid kills by Xue and Zhang.
Then Walsh Jennings poked the ball down the line for a point and May-Treanor placed one perfectly in the back of the court for a 21-20 edge.
The match ended on Walsh Jennings' block of Zhang.
"I can't comment now," Zhang said. "I'm really not happy."
It looked as if Kessy and Ross would be done quickly after a ragged first set against Brazil, but they rallied with a second-set victory marked by Kessy's consecutive blocks on Franca.
At least, that's what appeared to happen on the court. Tough to tell through the bad weather.
"I looked up at one point and I thought it was snowing," Kessy said.
The U.S. held a 12-10 lead in the third set when Ross delivered a kill off the net. The match ended a few points later on Kessy's kill.
"I definitely thought about the nine times we had lost to them and I was like, 'That is not happening again,' " Kessy said.
Kessy and Ross, who played at USC, are consistently among the top finishers in international tournaments, but they have won only once in their last 22 tries.
Just don't call them that other U.S. team
"No, no. Don't do that," Kessy said. "We are our own team. Kerri and Misty deserve everything that they get and we know why they're famous and we know why they have two gold medals.
"But April and I are here and we're in the finals. It's not just the other U.S. team anymore."