Regardless of the outcome in Wednesday's gold-medal match between Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings and fellow Americans April Ross and Jennifer Kessy, it will mark the end of an era for beach volleyball's most dominant team.
May-Treanor is set to retire following the dynamic duo's third straight appearance in the Olympic final, having won gold in both 2004 and 2008. Her exit from the international stage will end a partnership that may never get matched.
Eight years ago in Athens, back when the pair was known more simply as Misty May and Kerri Walsh, not even they would have probably believed the run they were about to embark on. A lot has changed in their lives since then, but they are still a formidable tandem on the court.
They always seemed like a perfect match. Walsh Jennings is dominant at the net while May-Treanor is a terrific defender with skillful finishing ability on offense, which is key because teams have served to her consistently over the years.
Yet conventional wisdom would say a bad day would come somewhere along the line to end their streak. It hasn't. They have rattled off 20 consecutive victories at the games, and No. 21 would result in another gold medal.
Consistency is often just as important as talent in a sport where the momentum swings are as noticeable as any other Olympic event. That was on full display in their semifinal victory over the Chinese team of Xi Zhang and Chen Xue.
Zhang and Xue built an early lead in the first set, but May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings didn't show any signs off panic, eventually fighting all the way back to win the set 22-20. They went on to win the second set to clinch a spot in the final.
A trust level exists between them that other teams simply can't match, and it has just as much to do with their incredible run as their ability to dig, set and spike.
Winning another gold medal would be the storybook end to May-Treanor's career. Every athlete dreams of getting the chance to go out on top, but few are actually able to accomplish it.
They face a difficult test in the form of Ross and Kessy, though. The overshadowed United States team defeated the top-ranked Brazilian pair of Juliana Felisberta and Larissa Franca to earn a chance to win gold.
May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings are the favorites due to their track record, but it will take a complete performance to send May-Treanor out on a high note. No matter the result, they have a lot to feel proud about.
The only sure thing is that, moving forward, it will be weird to see Walsh Jennings playing with a different partner.
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