RIO DE JANEIRO – Kerri Walsh Jennings will not win a fourth straight gold medal in Olympic beach volleyball.
Walsh Jennings, the 38-year-old legend of the sand, and partner April Ross fell to the bronze medal match after a 2-0 (22-20, 21-18) loss to Brazil’s Agatha and Barbara on Tuesday night at Copacabana Beach in front of a raucous crowd of local fans.
After a 5-0 run through the tournament that saw them drop just a single set, the Americans finally met their match in an athletic and efficient Brazilian team that used every inch of the court to keep Walsh Jennings and Ross on their heels.
The loss snapped a 26-match Olympic winning streak for Walsh Jennings, who had captured three straight gold medals with former partner Misty May-Treanor. These were also just the third and fourth sets that Walsh Jennings had ever dropped in Olympic play.
Agatha and Barbara took the first set thanks to some uncharacteristic mistakes from Walsh Jennings, who had just one successful dig and two blocks in the opening period. The Brazilians won it, 22-20, as the Americans watched an ace from Barbara sail to the back line for the definitive point.
The second set was expertly played by both sides, but the Americans never had a lead after it was 3-2. Perhaps no point exemplified Brazil’s incredible effort than when it dug the ball twice before Agatha blocked a Ross spike attempt to make it 17-15. Brazil pulled ahead and won the match in straight sets, leaving Walsh Jennings and Ross stunned in defeat.
Walsh Jennings said before the match that her goal was to take out the partisan crowd. “What I noticed is that when they’re down, the crowd goes away. So I know what my goal is,” she said after the Americans’ win in quarterfinals.
Alas, the crowd never went away in a match that saw Walsh Jennings and Ross never lead by more than two points, and saw them make more mistakes than they had made in previous matches. In the end, it was a Brazilian beach party, and the U.S. queens of midnight Rio volleyball saw their quest for gold end.
They’ll play for bronze on Wednesday night.
Brazil now has a men’s and women’s team playing for gold at the Rio Games.