LONDON – Twice Olympic women’s beach volleyball champions Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh of the United States saw off a fierce Chinese challenge in the London semi-final on Tuesday, bringing the prospect of a third gold tantalisingly close.
May-Treanor and Walsh are the only team of either gender to successfully defend an Olympic beach volleyball title since the sport made its Games debut in Atlanta in 1996. They won gold in Athens in 2004 and again in Beijing in 2008.
“We have a goal that we really want to accomplish and we’re planning on accomplishing it,” said Walsh, 33, who has had two babies since she last played in an Olympic final.
May-Treanor, 35, was equally focused.
“We have a goal. We want it. We see it, daily,” she said.
But Zhang Xi and Xue Chen, who were bronze medallists in Beijing and have won a string of trophies since then, had no interest whatsoever in helping the Americans to greater glory.
The Chinese came out aggressively with a series of flawless attacks, racing ahead to lead by 13-7 after just a few minutes. For a short while, it looked as though May-Treanor and Walsh had finally met their match on Olympic sand.
“They do that, they jump on teams. I was hoping that we would be the ones jumping on them but we got knocked back,” said Walsh.
The Californian pair kept cool under pressure and suddenly raised their game, shocking the Chinese with a string of blistering attacks of their own to draw level at 13-13.
From then on the set was too close to call until the very end. The Chinese saved two set points until the Americans eventually prevailed by 22-20. Sets are normally played to 21 points but a two-point advantage is needed to win.
The second set was also full of suspense.
The Americans took the lead but the Chinese caught up at 16-16. From then on the lead kept switching sides. The Chinese obtained a set point at 20-19, but the Americans saved it. Three points later they sealed the set and the match by 22-20.
“They started firing back with more artillery. We put a stop to that and got them at the end, thank goodness,” said Walsh, putting it down partly to experience.
“We’ve had 11 amazing years together. We’ve been in every single situation. That was not a fun situation to be in but we have survived it before and we did it again tonight.”
In the other women’s semi-final, scheduled for 2000 GMT, Brazilian world champions Larissa Franca and Juliana Felisberta take on former world champions April Ross and Jennifer Kessy of the United States.
Juliana, who missed out on Beijing because of a knee injury, said just before the London Games that her dream was to face May-Treanor and Walsh in an Olympic final. May-Treanor retorted at the time that her dream was to beat Juliana in the final.
But with the final looming after Tuesday’s win over the Chinese, May-Treanor was not making light of the Brazilians.
“I know Brazil’s hungry, especially with Juliana missing out in 2008. There are no easy matches out here,” she said.
May-Treanor and Walsh took time out from the sport and from each other after Beijing. Walsh had two sons less than a year apart, and May-Treanor was out of action for a long time after injuring her Achilles tendon while rehearsing for the hit TV show “Dancing with the Stars” in 2008.
After much soul-searching, the pair reunited in 2011 to try and win a third Olympic gold.
May-Treanor has said she will retire from competition after the Olympics because she and her husband want to start a family of their own.
The gold medal match is scheduled for 2100 local on Wednesday. Britain’s Prince Harry, the younger son of heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles, is expected to attend, which will please Juliana if she is playing. The Brazilian has repeatedly told reporters she is keen to see a prince in the stands.