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McPeak and Youngs capture the bronze

8/25/2004

ATHENS, Greece -- They raced to the stands and grabbed
American flags as "Born in the USA" blared over the speakers at
the Olympics' rowdiest venue.

Kerri Walsh and Misty May ended a splendid night on the beach
with a gold medal, a fitting finale for the most dominant run in
the history of beach volleyball.

The top-ranked U.S. beach volleyball duo beat second-seeded
Brazilians Shelda Bede and Adriana Behar 21-17, 21-11 on Tuesday
night, and did it without ever dropping a set in seven matches.

"It kind of hit me when I went and saw my family and they had
tears in their eyes," Walsh said. "They flew a million miles to
see it and they hate flying. It's really special."

With the 6-foot-3 Walsh dominating at the net and the quick May
scrambling and diving for every dig, they were favorites since last
year, when they began an unprecedented 90-match, 15-tournament
winning streak.

"We have so much confidence in each other, we never doubted
ourselves," May said.

"We deserve it," Walsh added.

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.

The Americans and Brazilians exchanged hugs on the medal stand
before the national anthem played. Adriana and Shelda, the all-time
winningest pair on the international FIVB tour, won their second
straight silver medal.

On match point in a surprisingly lopsided final, Walsh hammered
a spike just inside the line. Walsh fell to her knees as May ran to
embrace her and both fell backward in the sand.

"I just tackled her," May said. "I didn't care if I broke her
knees because she has a lot of time to rest."

Questions about the pair's Olympic chances arose in June,
shortly after May pulled an abdominal muscle. She spent most of the
summer rehabbing while Walsh kept homing her game with other
partners.

If they had weaknesses, they certainly weren't apparent in
Athens where they were untouchable, improving to 108-8 over two
years.

"A lot of people had doubts," May said. "I tried to tell
people I never had doubts."

But they never took the medal for granted.

"People said, 'You've got the gold medal in the bag," Walsh
said. "However flattering that is, we know that's not true."

Now it's time to party.

May and Walsh are 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 1996 and 2000, both times because her
partner was injured. 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' bronze victory 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. On a dive for the ball, Cook aggravated her right shoulder,
which she keeps heavily taped to protect a torn rotator cuff. She
wasn't the same after hitting the sand, resorting to serving
underhanded and grimacing after every fall.

"I thought, 'I only had 15 more minutes of volleyball to get
through," Cook said. "I have to keep going."

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, Calif., in June. She lives within
walking distance of that beach and had a bottle of champagne
waiting after that victory, too.