LONDON -- For 11 years, they have been Kerri and Misty, the most recognizable faces in Olympic beach volleyball and a team that dominated the sport.
No one could beat them in the Summer Games.
And no one will get another chance.
In their final competition together, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings beat fellow Americans Jennifer Kessy and April Ross to extend their Olympic record to 21-0 and win their third gold medal in a row. May-Treanor said she will retire from international play, perhaps to coach and definitely to spend time with her husband, Matt, a catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers who also travels often for his job.
"This is my last match," May-Treanor said. "Beach volleyball's not going to be my career anymore. ... It's time for me to be a wife. I want to be a mom and share time with my family. All of us as athletes sacrifice more on the family end than people realize. And it's getting back to that. My mind says it's time. My body says it's time. And it's the right time." The match started with nearby Big Ben pealing the hour and ended with the "Star-Spangled Banner" rising from the iconic venue in the Prime Minister's backyard, just down the Mall from the royal residence at Buckingham Palace. Playing on Henry VIII's former jousting tiltyard, with the current Prince Harry in the crowd, Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor continued their reign as champions of the beach.
"I'm just really proud to finish the journey with Misty how we finished it," Walsh Jennings said. "It's been 11 years of really, really fun and crazy times. She's the best there ever has been. To have been with her so long and call her a dear, dear friend and a sister now is the greatest gift ever. I'm glad she went out on top." Dominating the sport for three Olympiads, Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor have won every match they've ever played at the Summer Games and lost just one of 43 sets.
No one had ever won even two beach volleyball gold medals before the Americans won their second straight in Beijing.
No woman had ever won three Olympic beach volleyball medals of any kind.
"I know how hard it is to win one tournament. And the amount of tournaments they've won is crazy," said Kessy, who jumped for joy on the medal podium after she and Ross won silver in their Olympic debuts. "For them to do it for years and years and to be on top is just really impressive. We learn a lot from them." Earlier Wednesday, Brazil's Juliana and Larissa beat Xue Chen and Zhang Xi of China to win the bronze.
Brazil's Emanuel and Alison are scheduled to play Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann of Germany in the men's gold-medal match on Thursday night. Martins Plavins and Janis Smedins of Latvia are slated to play Reinder Nummerdor and Rich Schuil of the Netherlands for the bronze.
Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor pulled away midway through the first set of the title match and were never threatened in the second, falling to their knees and hugging as Ross' serve went long on match point. Then they took the celebration to the stands, circling the stadium that was built on the 500-year-old parade grounds now used by the Queen's household cavalry.
Walsh Jennings covered her bare shoulders with an American flag and grabbed her children; the older one was a little scared. They high-fived the Horse Guards Parade Dance Team and volunteers and just about anyone holding an American flag.
And, with both teams in the final from the United States, there were a lot of them.
"It's one thing to play an Olympic final. It's another to play against a team from your county you know so well," said Walsh Jennings, who played with Kessy on a U.S. junior team.
"I think the only reason Misty and I are gold medalists is because of those two. They push us so hard. They're one of my favorite teams to beat because they're so good. They've been one of the top teams in the world since they got together. I'm just really grateful that we've had them to come up against because they've made a big difference in our career." May-Treanor returned to the sand for a funky jig to rival the scantily clad dance team that helped bring the beach party atmosphere to the sold-out crowds in central London.
"I was like, 'I hope I'm not rubbing it in anybody's face,' but I was so excited," said May-Treanor, a competitor on "Dancing with the Stars" in 2008 before she tore her left Achilles tendon in rehearsal and missed a year on the pro tour. "I just had to get out there and let it out." Matt Treanor watched the gold-medal match in the team's clubhouse on a balky Internet connection that made him miss the final few points.
"I'm just real proud of her," he said in the Dodger Stadium dugout. "I am sure she is much more comfortable on the court than I am watching her." During the medal ceremony, the four Americans hugged after receiving their prizes and stood facing the two American flags raised during the national anthem. Despite both a shutout in the men's tournament, the United States matched its best finish since beach volleyball was added to the Olympics in 1996.
"I'm happy to be sitting next to another American team up here," May-Treanor said. "For both of us to be in the gold-medal match, it says a lot about our sport, a lot about the teams up here. ... I'm proud about both of us. And I'm just happy about the four of us really sharing this moment. They have no reason to hang their heads down."