Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh are on the verge of the most satisfying achievement of their Olympic careers. The electric beach volleyball duo will compete against April Ross and Jennifer Kessy in Wednesday's final, looking for their third consecutive Olympic gold.
Every gold medal is an incredible achievement, but this one just feels different for Walsh and May-Treanor. They haven't just won matches, they've persevered.
Beach volleyball is hard enough to play on its own. Adding pinkeye to the occasion doesn't seem fair, but Walsh had to deal with that anyway. Instead of backing down and allowing her play to suffer, Walsh maintained her usual world-class precision on the man-made court.
On top of unforeseen health concerns lie Walsh and May-Treanor's age. They are 34 and 35 years old. That may not seem that old, but think about how many miles they've logged on their legs. Think of the wear and tear their body goes through during the most regular match, let alone an especially rigorous contest.
That stuff doesn't just go away. Sooner or later even the best players become mortal in their respective field, at least they're supposed too. Walsh and May-Treanor must not have gotten the memo.
It hasn't been easy in London, but no one expected it to be—at least by their standards. Walsh and May-Treanor had to overcome two deficits in their two-set victory over Xi Zhang and Chen Xue in Tuesday's semifinal match, and their finals' berth didn't come without a fight.
All of these things add a special feeling to this year's gold medal match. Walsh and May-Treanor have a chance to establish themselves, once again, as the world's preeminent beach duo. They must go through their American counterparts to get there, but that should make it even more satisfying.
We knew that these two thrive under the Olympics' bright lights before London's Games began, but we didn't know how much they had left in the tank.
They've shown that they still have it, and they have had to overcome challenges along the way. This year's gold medal will be the most prized possession in the Americans' decorated careers.