LONDON — In their first Olympics, April Ross and Jennifer Kessy will play for the gold medal in an all-American beach volleyball final.
In their final Olympics together, Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor are playing for something more.
“We want to seal the deal that we’re the best team that’s ever happened,” Walsh Jennings said Tuesday night after they advanced to their third consecutive Olympic gold medal game with a 22-20, 22-20 victory over China. “Misty has changed my life. I just love her. I want to win tomorrow for us.”
A few hours later, Kessy and Ross beat the top-seeded Brazilians in a persistent rain to join their fellow Californians in Wednesday night’s final. Ross and Kessy rallied from a first-set loss and a four-point deficit in the second to beat reigning world champions Juliana and Larissa 15-21, 21-19, 15-12.
The Brazilians will play China’s Xue Chen and Zhang Xi, who are trying to repeat their bronze medal finish from Beijing.
Despite a medal shutout by the American men, the United States has clinched multiple beach volleyball medals for the fourth time in five Olympiads since it became a recognized sport in 1996.
Already the most-decorated team in the brief history of Olympic beach volleyball, Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor are guaranteed at least a silver medal. No one – man or woman – had ever won two beach volleyball gold medals before they became repeat champions in Beijing, and until now, no woman had won three Olympic medals of any color.
“I had a picture in my head at the beginning of the season of how I wanted us to play, and we’re living that picture,” Walsh Jennings said. “But it’s not over yet.”
Earlier Tuesday, Brazil’s Emanuel and Alison defeated Latvia to advance to the men’s gold medal game. They will meet the winner of the last match, between the Netherlands and Germany.
Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor won gold medals in Athens and Beijing without ever losing a match – in their first two Olympics, they never even lost a set – and they ran their unbeaten streak to 20 in a row with a victory Tuesday. But they gave up the first three points of the semifinal and fell behind 13-7 in the first set.
China saved two set points before Xue put one into the net tape to give the first set to the Americans.
The Americans held a slim lead most of the second, but China took the lead 17-16 and forced the Americans to take a timeout. Trailing 19-18, May-Treanor ran far behind the end line to retrieve an errant pass and bumped it toward the net – too close – forcing Walsh Jennings to slide under the net, delicately bumping the ball over and to an unoccupied area on the Chinese portion of the court.
“They’re a great team. They make you do crazy stuff like that,” Walsh Jennings said. “That was just funky. Misty ran down the ball and I think I got a little lucky on that one. But you need luck and I think you create your own luck, and that’s what you get when you don’t give up. But I can’t take real credit for that. That’s not skill.”
The Americans saved one set point, but May-Treanor fisted one to the back line to set up a match point, then Walsh Jennings’ block fell to the sand and she leapt into the air to celebrate.
In the early men’s semifinal, the reigning world champions from Brazil beat Martins Plavins and Janis Smedins 21-15, 22-20 to clinch no worse than silver. It is Emanuel’s third straight medal, but a first for Alison.
“I have been dreaming about this since I was a child,” Alison said. “Today I can finally say I am an Olympic athlete with a medal. But I am still dreaming about the gold.”