Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor made beach volleyball history today as the first women to earn three consecutive gold medals.
It was an all-American final as the pair battled U.S. newcomers April Ross and Jennifer Kessey, who fought off top-ranked Brazil Tuesday in three nail-biting sets.
The first set began with the two teams keeping each other within one point, but Walsh and May-Treanor's lead opened up toward the end, and their momentum carried them to an easy 21-16 victory.
The match stayed close in the second set, with the teams tied at 11 before the defending gold medalists opened up the first significant lead of the set. A rally by Kessey and Ross brought them within one point again, but their efforts were not enough to thwart Walsh and May-Treanor on their path to the Olympic record books.
The gold medal extended not only Walsh and May-Treanor's reign in the women's beach volleyball world, but also U.S. domination in the sport. Since it became an Olympic sport in 1996, Americans have won six of the nine gold medals awarded in beach volleyball.
The match also ended what has been one of the most popular competitions in the London Olympics, at least among spectators. With the players' revealing swimsuit uniforms, many British and U.S. tabloids had a field day with beach volleyball-themed front pages. London Mayor Boris Johnson drew the mockery of tabloid editors when, in an editorial celebrating his city's Games, he saluted the "half-naked women" "glistening like otters" just steps away from Buckingham Palace.
In the bronze medal match, the Brazilians came within two points of defeat before salvaging the second set and fighting to a victory against the Chinese.
The third set was a nail-biter, full of difficult-to-fathom digs and protracted rallies, but the victory that the Chinese appeared to have in their hands early on ultimately slipped away like sand between their fingers.
Brazil and Germany will face off in the men's beach volleyball final Thursday.
It was a triumphant day for Team USA at the Olympic Stadium, where Americans took three gold medals, two silver medals and two bronze medals.
In the 200-meter sprint, Allyson Felix caught the gold that eluded her in silver-medal performances in Athens and Beijing. Brittney Reese won the long jump event, and Aries Merritt won the 100-meter hurdles, becoming the first American to do so since 1996.
Usain Bolt, the Jamaican man widely considered to be the fastest in the world, strode to an easy win in the 200-meter semifinal, inching closer to becoming the first sprinter to win gold in the 100 and 200 meters at consecutive Games.