London, England – Big Ben loomed nearby as the scene played out like clockwork.
Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings were gold medalists again, winners of another Olympic beach volleyball tournament without a loss, proven queens of the sport yet again on a temporary beach in the regal heart of London.
"I don't have words," said Walsh Jennings.
But she's got three Olympics gold medals.
May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings beat Jennifer Kessy and April Ross in straight sets Wednesday night to capture their third straight Olympic beach volleyball gold, winning the all-American final if not with ease, then certainly with the command of having been there before.
Taking control of the match somewhere near the middle of the first set, May- Treanor and Walsh Jennings went on to win 21-16, 21-16, finishing the last match they will ever play together in 36 minutes.
Ross served long on the second match point and Walsh Jennings fell to her knees in the sand as May-Treanor rushed her for a hug -- a scene reminiscent of the final in Beijing four years ago, when they won gold in a driving rain.
Later, the gold medalists sung the national anthem together atop the podium one last time, with Walsh Jennings fighting back tears.
May-Treanor is retiring from the sport, which she has played with Walsh Jennings since 2001.
"I'm so pleased and so grateful and I'm not articulate right now, I'm so overwhelmed. It's insane," said Walsh Jennings. "It doesn't feel real. I am scared that I might wake up tomorrow and discover that we have to replay that match. It didn't feel like that last time."
May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings dropped a set for the first time in Olympic play a week ago, losing it to a pair of Austrian sisters who then couldn't duplicate the accomplishment.
But the champions didn't lose a set once they reached the knockout stage. They made the final by beating the 2008 bronze medalist team from China and went undefeated for the third straight Olympics.
That Kessy and Ross ended up as their opponents was a bit of an upset -- the other Americans had to knock off top Brazilians Juliana and Larissa in the semifinals.
May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings were already the only beach volleyball pair with more than one Olympic gold medal. Now they have three after what will be their final tournament together.
May-Treanor, who celebrated a 35th birthday here, is retiring but Walsh Jennings, who will turn 34 next week and has two sons with beach volleyball player Casey Jennings, is not walking away.
"I'm going to celebrate this, then get ready for stage two of my beach volleyball career," said Walsh Jennings. "It'll be very different without Misty there, but she will be a part of it whether as a friend or even as my coach."
Said May-Treanor: "Whether we had finished on top or not, the thing that I'm proud of is us sticking together."
It was the second time in the last three Olympics that U.S. women won two medals. Holly McPeak and Elaine Youngs won bronze in 2004, when May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings first captured gold. It was the first time since 1996 that the same country won gold and silver.
Earlier Wednesday, Brazilians Juliana and Larissa won the bronze medal match in three sets over China's Xue Chen and Zhang Xi.
In the final, neither team found much breathing room in the score early on -- a 3-1 lead by Kessy and Ross was about as much distance as either saw. Kessy blocked May- Treanor and Walsh Jennings in succession to make it 11-10.
But the reigning champions started to pull away
Walsh Jennings made it 17-14 on a strong serve that couldn't be handled and they won their second set point on May-Treanor's spike.
In the second set, May-Treanor's tap into the front court made it 19-15 and Walsh Jennings blocked Ross to set up the first match point. Kessy and Ross saved it, but Ross drilled her serve long moments later to end the match.
Beach volleyball has come a long way at the Olympics since its debut at Atlanta in 1996 and May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings have been there for its emergence as a must-see sport.
The crowds have grown increasingly raucous since they won their first medal in Athens eight years ago.
"We set our expectations really high as a team, as people and as players. We want this game to grow and we set the bar very high and we extended that bar and set it even higher," said May-Treanor.
In London, the sport was played in a temporary arena at Horse Guards Parade, almost literally on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street, the prime minister's office and residence, and not far from Buckingham Palace where the queen lives. It had views of Big Ben and the London Eye ferris wheel.