It was as if we couldn’t lose … or couldn’t win … I’m still not sure.
How could I be? It hasn’t happened since 1996.
Atlanta. That was the last Olympics that saw an All-American beach volleyball final. How long ago was that? It was the Karch Kiraly days.
In 1996, Karch and Kent Steffes beat Michael Dodd and Mike Whitmarsh for Olympic glory. I was there. Yes, I know, I’m an old man.
It took 16 years before we got to witness another civil war on the beach. This one pitted wily veterans and back-to-back Olympic champs Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings against the feisty April Ross and Jennifer Kessy.
The two-time defending champs were the favorites, coming into this final having won every Olympic match they had ever competed in, and dropping just one set along the way (Record in sets: 42-1). That dropped set, though, came in London, and there were whispers that the ladies who have dominated beach volleyball for over a decade may finally be vulnerable.
And Kessy/Ross looked like they could be the team to finally crack the nut after bouncing back from a first set loss in the semis to outlast the top-seeded Brazilians.
The star-studded crowd (I hear Prince Harry and Matt Lauer were there) was decidedly on the champs’ side; hoping to see Misty May ride off into the sunset with one last golden hurrah.
And as it became more and more inevitable that was exactly what was going to happen, the celebration – both for Misty/Kerri and for American dominance on a worldwide stage – swept across the Horse Guards Parade.
I don’t need to tell you the result. By now you undoubtedly have May Traenor’s beach shuffle indelibly etched into your brain. But unless you were one of the 15,000 or so exultant fans in attendance, I do need to tell you how it felt to be there.
I can do it one word.
Sports, by nature, divide us. We go into events with strong rooting interests; “us” against “them.” We know going in we’re going to leave victorious or distraught. It’s that dichotomy … that precipice between winning and losing … that vast span of potential emotion that makes sports so addictive. That makes sports so great.
So what happens when you go into a match knowing that no matter who wins, you win? What happens when you show up for a gold medal event with all your money on both sides?
I now can tell you exactly what happens: One giant party.
Don’t get me wrong, this meant everything to Kessy and Ross. They squeezed everything they could out of every point and were clearly heartbroken to come up short.
But on a day where the U.S. netted 11 medals, nine of them (7 in track, 2 in beach volleyball) within the span of an hour, Kessy and Ross’ loss was a footnote. The headline:
Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings – The Greatest Beach Volleyball Team of All Time.
Back-to-back-to-back Olympic champions. Domination of the sport for 12 years. An unbreakable partnership both on and off the sand.
The beach will never again see a team like Misty and Kerri. Thanks in large part to the American tandem, the sport is way too deep now to imagine anyone being so dominant for so long.
Wednesday night, for the last time, we witnessed the best beach volleyball can be.
And now that it’s over, I can say without a shadow of a doubt:
A 15,000-person, All-American celebration by the beach was the perfect way to say goodbye.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.