ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Misty May and Kerri Walsh made it look easy, even in the end.
The top-ranked American beach volleyball pair defeated second-seeded Brazilians Shelda Bede and Adriana Behar 21-17, 21-11 on Tuesday night, capping
the most dominant run in the sport's history with a gold medal. Earlier, Americans Holly McPeak and Elaine Youngs won the bronze medal, beating
Australia's Natalie Cook and Nicole Sanderson 21-18, 15-21, 15-9.
May and Walsh didn't drop a set in Athens, with the 6-foot-3 Walsh dominating at the net and the quick May scrambling and diving for every dig. On
match point in a surprisingly lopsided final, Walsh hammered a spike just inside in the line. Walsh fell to her knees as May ran to embrace her. They
raced to the stands and grabbed American flags as "Born in the USA" blared over the speakers at the Olympics' rowdiest venue.
May and Walsh have been gold-medal favorites since last year, when they began an unprecedented 90-match, 15-tournament winning streak. The streak
ended in June, the week after May pulled an abdominal muscle. May spent most of the summer rehabbing while Walsh continued to hone her game with other
May's injury cast doubt on the pair's Olympic hopes, but they never showed signs of weakness. They were untouchable in Athens, improving to 108-8 over
the past two years. May and Walsh were invited to a post-Olympics party at McPeak's home in California, where 10 bottles of Dom Perignon await. The
toasts will taste especially sweet to McPeak, who finished fifth at the Olympics in both 1996 and 2000, repeatedly set back by injuries to her
partner. Two weeks before Atlanta, Nancy Reno tore a rotator cuff and couldn't do much more than set in the tournament. Five weeks before Sydney, May
-- then her teammate -- tore an abdominal muscle. She and McPeak hardly practiced together before the games began.
Youngs played on the U.S. indoor team that finished a disappointing seventh in Atlanta. She hit the beach the following year and paired with McPeak in
2002 with Athens on her mind. The Americans' victory in the bronze medal game kept Cook off the medal stand for the first time since beach volleyball
became an Olympic sport in 1996. Cook won the bronze in Atlanta and the gold in Sydney, both times with Kerri Pottharst. She teamed with Sanderson
last year after Pottharst retired.
The Americans controlled the first set, but trailed 16-13 in the second. Cook then aggravated her right shoulder on a dive for the ball -- she keeps
it heavily taped to protect a torn rotator cuff. Cook wasn't the same after hitting the sand, resorting to serving underhanded and grimacing after
McPeak and Youngs dominated the decisive set and when Youngs finished the match with a tap to open sand, she sprinted to the back of the court and
leaped into the air. Youngs hugged her partner, then ran into the stands to hug family members. She grabbed an American flag and found a laurel wreath
to put on her head.
The bronze medal completed a historic year for the 35-year-old McPeak, who became the sport's winningest female player with a victory at Manhattan
Beach in June. She lives within walking distance of that beach and had a bottle of Dom awaiting her after that victory, too.