Kerri and Misty win gold in Beijing in 2008
In the beginning, there was a good degree of huffing and puffing about how the sport's main appeal was the fact that its women competed in skimpy bikinis. But fans have come to appreciate the reckless athleticism of beach volleyball, and its profile in the USA has been raised by its dominating women's team of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh (now Walsh-Jennings).
As Kerri Walsh puts it (from ESPN):
The reality is it's really an athletic, beautiful sport. The uniform should attract people. What brings them back is the physicality and the beauty of the sport.
Age has started to catch up with 34-year-old May-Treanor and 33-year-old Walsh. They lost the World Championship in 2011 and now find themselves ranked third in the world.
With one more chance to go for gold, here's a look back at Walsh and May-Treanor's beach volleyball dominance over the last decade.
Kerri and Misty in 2003
Misty and Kerri are true California girls. May-Treanor went to high school in Costa Mesa, and Walsh in San Jose.
Both excelled at sports, and they played high school indoor volleyball against each other. Their paths crossed again in college when 6'3" Kerri attended Stanford, while 5'9" Misty went to Long Beach State.
Misty led an undefeated team to the NCAA title in 1998, winning the Honda Broderick NCAA Athlete of the Year Award. USA Volleyball reports that she was also named a First Team All-American in 1996 and 1997.
After graduation, both athletes continued to pursue indoor volleyball for a time. Misty switched over to beach volleyball first, partnering with Holly McPeak with an eye on an Olympic medal in Sydney in 2000. They finished a disappointing fifth, which led Misty to seek out a new partner in Kerri Walsh.
They clicked immediately and quickly came to dominate both the tour circuit and Olympic play.
May and Wash at the 2007 World Championship
May and Walsh started their beach volleyball careers on the international FIVB tour in 2001. By 2002, they were champions.
In 2003, they signed on with the AVB tour and went 39-0 for an undefeated season.
The pair continued to dominate both tours. They won an astonishing 112 consecutive matches in 2007 and 2008. They went on an unplanned hiatus in the fall of 2008 after Misty ruptured her Achilles tendon during a rehearsal for Dancing With the Stars.
Kerri and Misty celebrate gold in Athens at the 2004 Olympics
Misty and Kerri were able to parlay their tournament success into two crushing gold medal performances at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.
The pair were riding a 70-match winning streak into Athens in 2004 and did not lose a single game in their seven-match road to gold.
In Beijing in 2008, they became the only beach volleyball team in the sport's brief Olympic history to repeat as gold medalists. Once again, they did not lose a set throughout their tournament.
Reunited in May 2012
Sometimes reality TV can be very real indeed. Misty's 2008 Achilles rupture meant she had to withdraw from Dancing With the Stars. It also meant she missed a year of volleyball while she rehabilitated.
During her time off, Kerri Walsh-Jennings gave birth. As Jim Caple of ESPN reports, by the time Misty was ready to return, Kerri was pregnant again.
It wasn't easy getting the band back together. Misty started to play again with partner Nicole Branagh, but found her heart wasn't in it and quit, thinking she was done. When Kerri came back, she partnered up with Branagh and the two began to make plans for the Olympics.
But Misty started having second thoughts. From ESPN:
She didn't want her career to peter out the way it apparently was. She wanted another gold medal, and she wanted to win it with Walsh.
Play or retire? Go for gold or begin the second act of her life? May-Treanor so agonized over the decision, she once woke up crying at 3 a.m. It was then she knew she had to come back and play some more.
The process from there was complicated. Misty had to get Kerri to agree to rejoin her, and that left a bitter Nicole Branagh out in the cold. Forgiveness wasn't easy to come by, but Misty and Kerri are friends above all and felt they owed it to their relationship to give it one last try.
Heading into London, Misty and Kerri are in the unusual position of not being favored to win gold.
The pair is currently seeded third behind Larissa Franca and Juliana Silva of beach volleyball powerhouse Brazil, and Xue Chen and Zhang Xi of China. Since their return, they haven't dominated like they did going into 2008.
Kerri Walsh remains confident and excited about the prospect of putting their team into the ranks of the all-time greats (from ESPN):
"Misty said we have nothing left to prove because we have done so many great things, but I want to prove to the world that we're the best in 2012," Walsh says. "I feel like if we win a third gold medal, when we win a third gold medal in London, it will put us in that realm. We'll be the best there ever was in beach volleyball, and I just want that. I want us to do it because we're capable.
"I want us to do it because we just have it in us."
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