- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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BEIJING -- Women wearing revealing bikinis with rain streaming down their sculpted bodies, while American popular music plays and cheerleaders dance in the sand, might be a TV executive's idea of must-see prime time, but it's hardly what Mao ever envisioned for China. But then again, did Mao ever envision a Communist country where there now are shopping malls that include Cartier, Versace and Ferrari?
Thus, it should not have been shocking to see two Chinese teams win medals in beach volleyball. And it was downright business as usual for Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh to win the gold. Playing in the worst weather conditions since that Visa commercial in the ice and snow, May-Treanor and Walsh beat China's Tian Jia and Wang Jie 21-18, 21-18 in a driving rainstorm to capture their second consecutive gold medal on Thursday.
"The rain made it better," the exuberant Walsh said of the rain that fell throughout the match and intensified near the end. "I don't know why, but it made it better. We felt like warriors out there."
Walsh said the rain made the ball slicker, but that she actually welcomed the conditions when she saw it was raining.
"This is the steadiest, hardest rain we've played in," she said. "But we play in Marseilles [France] when it's the windiest you've ever seen. You can't even see because the wind is whipping up the sand in your face. That's harder to play in. But that's beach volleyball. You have to play in any conditions."
Or as May-Treanor said of the downpour, "That's just another reason we play in bathing suits."
May-Treanor and Walsh won every set of their matches here and extended their overall winning streak to 108 matches. "My tummy hurts and my head is mush, but it feels so good," Walsh said. "I'm going to have a smile on my face all day.''
Tian said May-Treanor and Walsh are so dominant that she and Wang were able to relax because there was basically nothing to lose. Still, the fact that the two Americans were playing China at all for the gold -- the other China team of Xue Chen and Zhang Xi won the bronze -- rather than say, the Brazilians, is powerful evidence of how far the country has come in a sport usually identified with beaches in Southern California or Rio.
"The Chinese federation works very hard and they're students of the game," Walsh said. "They're going to get better, there's no doubt about it. They work so hard. [A reporter] asked about their motivation and these girls are so motivated. We see them working every single day. I don't even know if they get a day off."
Given the story about the martial artists who performed in the Opening Ceremony, Walsh might have been more right than she realized about the Chinese working hard every day.
"We need to catch up to the U.S." Tian said. "We need to remember, beach volleyball has a long history in the United States, but in China, it is still pretty new."
"They just need to keep their heads up," May-Treanor said. "Their desire is there. Their work is there. It's just a matter of being students of the game and sticking it out through the good times and bad. World, watch out for them."
Meanwhile, the volleyball world will watch to see whether May-Treanor and Walsh go for three golds in a row by following Winston Churchill's famous words and fight on the beaches at the 2012 Olympics in London, or retire to domestic life.
"Coming into the Games, I didn't know if winning would feel the same emotionally as last time, but I think it surpassed the medal in Athens because Kerri and I want to start a new chapter in our lives off the court," said May-Treanor, who is married to Florida Marlins catcher Matt Treanor. "Whether either of us comes back in London in 2012 or not, you never know after having a child. So right now, I have to think this may be my last Olympics. I may come back, but I just want to start a family. First I need to spend time with my husband."
"I am so proud to be with her," Walsh said of her playing partner. "She makes me a better person and a better player and I can't tell you how much I love and respect her. We did this together, we fought together with our families, we have something special. I'm so happy and very proud and humbled and I hope we don't stop after we have babies.
"I hope we keep going. I feel like we have unfinished business."
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His Web site is at jimcaple.net.
Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh didn't face a likely opponent, but the results were the same for the beach volleyball pair -- all gold.