A final sand-off for U.S. beach volleyball team

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 8, 2012 - 3:45 PM

Their third Olympics will be the last for Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings, who go for gold again.

LONDON - Had they wished, Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor could have opted to wear full bodysuits under their bikinis in Tuesday's beach volleyball semifinal. The International Volleyball Federation chose to alter its uniform code this year as a concession to the London weather, which is as far from southern California as it gets.

The American pair stuck with the beachwear on a day when the sport of sun and sand became the sport of ... well, just sand. And it didn't cool them off a bit. Under a heavy slate-gray sky at Horse Guards Parade -- certainly the most unique venue ever to host Olympic beach volleyball -- the two-time Olympic gold medalists won a hard-fought match against China's Zhang Xi and Xue Chen to reach Wednesday's finals.

These Summer Games will be the last for the tandem of Walsh Jennings, 33, and May-Treanor, 35, the grande dames of American beach volleyball. They are making their swan song in a place that actually has a swan. It floated serenely on a pond in St. James's Park as a horde of bundled-up Britons marched past, heading toward a little slice of California plopped in the middle of a parade ground that dates to 1745.

Under normal circumstances, Horse Guards Parade is used for the yearly Trooping of the Colour ceremony, which takes place on the Queen's official birthday. The Olympics, of course, are not normal. For this occasion, 5,000 tons of sand were dumped on the grounds bordered by historic government houses and one residence -- 10 Downing Street, home to Prime Minister David Cameron.

The prime minister's back garden is just behind the grandstand, prompting all kinds of jokes about whether the party atmosphere might be disrupting official government business. The business certainly wasn't getting in the way of the party, which ensured beach volleyball would retain its reputation as the Olympic sport for the club crowd.

"Our sport is as it should be," said Walsh Jennings, whose team will play fellow Americans Jen Kessy and April Ross for the gold medal Wednesday. "It's exciting, it's wholesome, but it's also sexy. It deserves a stage as spectacular as this venue.

"We've played in front of the Eiffel Tower, which was really special. But this venue trumps it."

Beach volleyball joined the Olympic program at the 1996 Atlanta Games and has been a popular ticket ever since. Britons have taken to it warmly, despite a climate that runs to the contrary.

It's known as the sport of beer and bikinis, which has made it wildly popular in some cultures (think Brazil) and anathema in others (think Muslim countries). In modifying its uniform code for women -- which used to offer two choices, a one-piece swimsuit or a two-piece -- the International Volleyball Federation also has begun allowing women to wear shorts and tops with sleeves. That, it hopes, will open up the sport to women whose religious or cultural dress codes would prohibit them from participating.

Tuesday's matches were a buttoned-up affair for most. Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor played in bikinis in a stadium filled with people wrapped in fleece tops, jackets and scarves. It began raining during the late matches, when it felt much colder than 60 degrees. Kessy and Ross wore long-sleeved tops, while their Brazilian opponents Larissa and Juliana opted for the bodysuits.

The stadium offered views of more historic institutions, too, with Big Ben towering just down Parliament Street and the Banqueting House -- where King Charles I was beheaded in 1649 -- across the road. Every time the sand was raked, the stadium announcers paid tribute to another British icon, playing the Benny Hill theme.

With its pulsating soundtrack, constant action on the sand and youthful, high-energy vibe, even a chill that caused people to wrap themselves in their flags for warmth couldn't spoil the mood. The closest thing to a buzzkill came when the crowd did the wave, only to see it die repeatedly when it reached the section where Olympic officials sat in their blue blazers and ties. That prompted a hearty round of boos every time.

Walsh Jennings was sentimental after the U.S.-China match. She and May-Treanor have played together for 10 years and won three world championships, and they are extraordinarily close. After taking a break following the Beijing Olympics -- Walsh Jennings to have two children, May-Treanor to recover from an injury -- they reunited in 2011 for one last Summer Games.

"It's an emotional thing,'' said Walsh Jennings, who expects to continue playing while May-Treanor plans to retire. "We have one more match together. It heightens everything. I'm determined to go out on top, because that's what we deserve."

Expect them to be wearing their bikinis. It may be soggy, it may be cold, but it's an endless summer at Olympic beach volleyball -- even in Britain.

  • related content

  • Photo gallery: Women's beach volleyball: U.S. over China

    Tuesday August 7, 2012

    With a dramatic victory over China in the semifinal, Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor today inched closer to their...

  • Tracking Minnesota's Olympians

    Tuesday August 7, 2012

    The 14 Minnesota athletes competing for Team USA in the London Olympics:Lindsey Berg Volleyball (women's indoor)Tie: Gophers •Twitter: @NapelaTuesday: U.S....

  • Olympic roundup

    Tuesday August 7, 2012

    Men's boxingA first: U.S. leaving without a medalThe U.S. men's boxing team is heading home with no Olympic medals for...

  • In London, U.S. men rely on their own King

    Wednesday August 8, 2012

    LeBron James has kept the U.S. team from melting down to some surprising opponents.

  • Bumpy road to London for St. Cloud's BMX athlete

    Wednesday August 8, 2012

    Alise Post overcame a devastating knee injury in quicker-than-normal time to compete in the Olympics.

  • U's Berg sits out with leg injury

    Tuesday August 7, 2012

    It's unclear if she can play in the semifinals.

  • Now the games really matter

    Wednesday August 8, 2012

    Russia and its two Wolves players meet Lithuania in one quarterfinal; Team USA, with Kevin Love, gets Australia in another. 8 a.m. and 4:15 p.m., NBCSN.

  • Golden -- and human

    Wednesday August 8, 2012

    Golden -- and human

  • Tuesday's Olympics results

    Tuesday August 7, 2012

    TUESDAY'S RESULTSMEDALISTSCYCLING TRACKMen's KeirinGold--Chris Hoy, Britain; Silver--Maximilian Levy, Germany; Bronze--Simon van Velthooven, New Zealand; Teun Mulder, Netherlands.Women's sprintGold--Anna Meares, Australia;...

  • Photo gallery: Olympics: Best of Brian Peterson

    Saturday August 11, 2012

    The highlights of Star Tribune photographer Brian Peterson's pictures from the London Olympics.

  • Misty May-Treanor, left, and Kerri Walsh Jennings

  • With a dramatic victory over China in the semifinal, Kerri Walsh and M...

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Seattle
Minnesota 64 3rd Qtr 10:16
Philadelphia 61
Houston 56 2nd Qtr 2:22
Boston 39
Portland 41 2nd Qtr 4:37
Atlanta 43
Sacramento 30 2nd Qtr 5:14
Cleveland 46
Toronto 49 2nd Qtr 5:25
Brooklyn 42
Dallas 7 1st Qtr 5:30
Miami 11
LA Clippers 15 1st Qtr 5:14
New Orleans 15
Golden State 8:00 PM
Utah
Chicago 9:30 PM
Phoenix
Pittsburgh 0 2nd Prd 6:21
New Jersey 0
St. Louis 2 2nd Prd 6:24
Carolina 1
Nashville 8:00 PM
Colorado
Buffalo 9:00 PM
Vancouver
Chicago 9:00 PM
Anaheim
Harvard 75 FINAL
Princeton 72
Quinnipiac 32 2nd Half 15:02
Canisius 37
Brown 46 2nd Half 6:04
Cornell 46
Siena 56 2nd Half 12:00
Manhattan 58
Marist 42 2nd Half 11:09
Niagara 40
Dartmouth 24 2nd Half 13:38
Penn 33
Oregon 10 1st Half 11:51
Arizona State 9
Yale 4 1st Half 12:15
Columbia 11
Monmouth 14 1st Half 11:06
Fairfield 15
IUPUI 8 1st Half 11:17
Western Ill 10
Oregon State 9:00 PM
Arizona
Kent State 9:00 PM
Buffalo
Canisius 75 FINAL
Monmouth 58
Butler 51 2nd Half 9:09
Providence 45
Cornell 45 2nd Half 10:11
Brown 34
Columbia 46 2nd Half 4:38
Yale 47
Coll of Charleston 39 2nd Half 6:49
Drexel 52
Penn 41 2nd Half 9:48
Dartmouth 25
Elon 30 2nd Half 15:20
James Madison 54
(19) Princeton 48 2nd Half 15:45
Harvard 30
(9) Florida State 55 2nd Half 11:22
Georgia Tech 42
Quinnipiac 53 2nd Half 11:57
Siena 41
Richmond 44 2nd Half 8:23
Rhode Island 42
Loyola-Chicago 38 2nd Half 16:12
Southern Ill 35
Georgetown 4 1st Half 13:15
DePaul 21
Villanova 17 1st Half 12:00
Marquette 12
Wichita State 11 1st Half 12:03
Northern Iowa 7
Xavier 17 1st Half 11:00
Creighton 14
Bradley 10 1st Half 12:50
Illinois State 6
Missouri State 11 1st Half 13:00
Drake 19
Arizona 8:00 PM
Utah
(11) Arizona State 8:00 PM
Colorado

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How should Timberwolves fans greet Kevin Love on Saturday?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close