The top-ranked American beach volleyball pair defeated second-seeded Brazilians Shelda Bede and Adriana Behar 21-17, 21-11 on Tuesday night, capping the most dominant run in the sport's history with a gold medal.
May and Walsh didn't drop a set in Athens, with the 6-foot-3 Walsh dominating at the net and the quick May scored a spike just inside in the line. Walsh fell to her knees as May ran to embrace her. They raced to the stands and grabbed American flags as "Born in the USA" blared over the speakers at the Olympics' rowdiest venue.
May and Walsh have been gold-medal favorites since last year, when they began an unprecedented 90-match, 15-tournament winning streak.
The streak ended in June, the week after May pulled an abdominal muscle. May spent most of the summer rehabbing while Walsh continued to hone her game with other partners.
May's injury cast doubt on the pair's Olympic hopes, but they never showed signs of weakness. They were untouchable in Athens, improving to 108-8 over the past two years.
May and Walsh were 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 both 1996 and 2000, repeatedly set back by injuries to her partner. 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' victory in the bronze medal game 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. Cook then aggravated her right shoulder on a dive for the ball — she keeps it heavily taped to protect a torn rotator cuff.
Cook wasn't the same after hitting the sand, resorting to serving underhanded and grimacing after every fall.
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 in June. She lives within walking distance of that beach and had a bottle of Dom awaiting her after that victory, too.