LONDON – The most decorated Olympians in beach volleyball history ended their storied partnership Wednesday with a gold medal, a sandy embrace and the most exuberant bikini-clad victory dance the iconic Horse Guards Parade had ever seen.
Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings won their third straight gold medal, beating fellow Americans April Ross and Jennifer Kessy 21-16, 21-16 in a tight match that lasted only 38 minutes.
After securing the final point on a Ross serve that sailed out of bounds, the winning duo dropped to their knees in the sand and hugged.
They took separate victory laps around the Horse Guards Parade, the grounds where King Henry VIII once held jousting matches and Queen Elizabeth II now marks her birthdays.
After kissing her family and posing for pictures with fans, May-Treanor ran back to the court and performed the running man, her trademark dance move, as the heavily pro-U.S. crowd cheered.
Walsh Jennings draped herself in an American flag and grabbed her two young sons – both born since the 2008 Beijing Games.
"I don't have words," Walsh Jennings said. "I'm so pleased and so grateful. I'm not articulate right now, I'm so overwhelmed. It's insane."
As the two waited to receive their medals, they hugged again and a tearful Walsh Jennings kissed her partner's hand. May-Treanor later grabbed Walsh Jennings' hand during the national anthem and held it as the U.S. flag was raised.
The win ends an 11-year partnership that has spanned three Olympics, three world championship titles and a stretch of 112 consecutive victories. The two won all 21 Olympic matches they played, losing only one set.
May-Treanor, 35, plans to retire to start a family. Walsh Jennings, who turns 34 Wednesday, wants to compete in Rio de Janeiro in four years.
The third gold medal didn't come as easily as the first two. After a two-year break after Beijing and briefly playing with other partners, the pair arrived in London as underdogs, having performed inconsistently at a Grand Prix event in June and finishing second at last year's world championship.
They also grappled with personal obligations. Walsh Jennings' priorities shifted in motherhood, and May-Treanor adjusted to her partner's new life and embraced her growing family.
The changes could have threatened the partnership, but it bolstered their friendship, Walsh Jennings said. Where their relationship once had been almost entirely about volleyball, the game now plays a minor role. And that's what makes this gold medal a little more special, both said.
"Our journey these past two years has changed my life," Walsh Jennings said. "It sounds cheesy and dramatic to say so, but it's changed me.
"Now that our competition journey is done, it crushes me a little bit. But now we're going to share our families and our lives, and I am so pleased we went out the way we did."