LONDON – This is beach volleyball, after all, played by women in bikinis and in a courtyard where horses usually prance. It is usually a happy place. But on Sunday evening Americans Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings made an opponent cry during the match.
It happened on the changeover after the first set of a quarterfinals match in which May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings beat the Italian team of Greta Cicolari and Marta Menegatti in straight sets at Horse Guards Parade. Menegatti went to her seat on the sideline and began to weep, which is unusual in competition.
"I definitely thought she was emotional," Walsh Jennings said. "I could feel it. But to me that's not a sign of weakness. She wants it that bad. I wanted to smother her a little bit when I saw her shudder a little bit. That's not weakness at all."
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After the match, Menegatti admitted that her emotions had frayed. She said she was sad. She said she wanted the match so much she became flustered. Worse, she added, was the fact she was playing against May-Treanor, who she says is her idol.
"I want to be like her," Menegatti said. "She is my hero and has been since I was young."
Knowing that Menegatti had admitted to crying but not realizing how much the Italian player reveres her, May-Treanor looked unsure what to say, picking her words carefully as to not look like a bully but also to show how she and Walsh Jennings have to play as fierce as they can.
"Not that that's what you want to do, but by that, by us being aggressive, that's how you get teams in trouble," she said. "But at the same time she's a young player and she will learn. She has no reason to hold her head down. But you know you can't let the emptions get the best of you."
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In some ways it's odd that May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings are seen as so dominant in these Olympics. They are both in their mid-30s and had fallen apart as a duo – May-Treanor due to an Achilles injury and Walsh Jennings due to giving birth to two children. When they got back together earlier this year, they were not good. They came here looking anything but overwhelming. Last week, they lost a set – something they had never done in their previous two Olympics.
Part of overcoming these physical issues, they say, is playing as ferociously as they can. Maybe they are no longer stronger and faster than the women they face but they believe that if they have the right intensity they can get a third gold medal. And so they say things like Walsh Jennings did on Sunday.
"We want to crush everybody," she said.
Then she smiled.
"It's whoever makes the other team more uncomfortable is the one that wins," she later said. "I don't want to let my opponents free, I don't want to give them an inch. And so I think you need to have that cutthroat mentality. Not mean. Not I want to hurt you or devastate you but I respectfully want to beat you."
Did she mean respectfully crush you?
"Not your soul," she said. "Just you on the court."
More Olympics coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
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• Full video coverage of the 2012 Olympic Games