US unbeatables win -- and lose

August 21, 2008 12:28:17 PM PDT
U.S. women's softball and U.S. women's beach volleyball, two sure things at the Olympics. Make that one sure thing. Make that one sure thing.

Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor, who have never lost a set in the games, overcame steady rain, the partisan crowd and China's Wang Jie and Tian Jia 21-18, 21-18 Thursday for their second straight beach volleyball gold medal. The duo has won 108 consecutive matches, a streak that could end soon because both plan to start families.

"We might be back," May-Treanor said. "We want our kids to see us play."

Hopefully in better conditions, though. Both Americans said it was the hardest continuous rain they've ever played in. "The rain makes it better. We felt like warriors out there," said Walsh, known as "Six Feet of Sunshine."

While the masterful U.S. pair was extending its dominance in the sand, the equally untouchable softball squad got, well, touched. Make that knocked down and out in the gold medal game by Japan, 3-1.

Losing for the first time since 2000, the United States was denied a chance for a fourth straight gold medal in the sport's last appearance in the Olympics for at least eight years -- and maybe for good. The International Olympic Committee voted baseball and softball off the schedule for the London Games.

Yukiko Ueno, Japan's remarkably resilient right-hander, shut down the Americans, who had won 22 straight Olympic games, usually in routs. The U.S. team also had some sloppy fielding in, well, sloppy conditions.

"It hurts a lot," said slugger Crystl Bustos, who homered for the only U.S. run. "You train your whole life and you want to win. You don't expect to lose."

Particularly when you never do lose.

"She just beat us," U.S. starter Cat Osterman said. "I'm not hanging my head too much about it."

Ueno had pitched 21 innings -- the equivalent of three complete games -- on Wednesday to get her team to the gold-medal match.

How did she do it?

"It was my strong belief to win," she said through an interpreter.

There were some happy times for U.S. athletes, particularly the women's soccer team that won its third gold medal in four tries, edging Brazil 1-0 on Carli Lloyd's goal in extra time; and the men's 400 runners, who swept the medals.

China has 46 gold medals among its 83 total medals. The United States lead in overall medals with 95, including 29 gold.

------ Soccer

The U.S. women, minus their best attacker and best defender, still had enough to hold off favored Brazil for the gold medal. Carli Lloyd scored in the sixth minute of extra time, then the Americans barely held on as the world's top player, Marta, and her countrywomen pressed for a tying goal. In fact, the Brazilians carried the play for much of the soggy night, but goalkeeper Hope Solo -- benched for last year's semifinal match with Brazil -- stood like the Great Wall of China in front of the net.

As the final whistle sounded, the Americans charged across the field, hugging anyone in sight. Someone handed out flags, and several players took off running. The victory was all the more special with striker Abby Wambach and defender Cat Whitehill sidelined with leg injuries.

The Brazilians, meanwhile, were disconsolate, with goalkeeper Barbara laying on her back, sobbing.

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Track and field

More disappointment for the Americans, this time the men and the women, particularly in the relays. Both teams dropped the baton, meaning the Americans would go 0-for-6 in the sprints for the first time.

"I take full blame for it," Tyson Gay said of his bad exchange with third-leg runner Darvis Patton. "I kind of feel I let them down."

About 25 minutes later, women's anchor Lauryn Williams flubbed her exchange with Torri Edwards, who stared in disbelief at the baton sitting on the track. At the 2004 Olympics, Williams started running too early and missed a handoff from Marion Jones in the final.

"If people want to assess the blame to me, that's OK. I mean, I can take whatever it is that people are going to dish out," Williams said. "We had good chemistry. The hand was back there. She was there. I don't know what happened."

But the Americans also got that medals sweep in the 400 by LaShawn Merritt, Jeremy Wariner, the defending world and Olympic champion and the favorite who slowed up at the end and barely held off David Neville, who dived across the finish line.

Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown ran the fastest women's 200 in a decade, 21.74 seconds, to beat American Allyson Felix and complete her country's sweep of the four men's and women's sprint races.

Campbell still aspire to go to the London Games.

"I have four more years. If I can stay like this, I just have to train hard," Campbell-Brown said.

World record-holder Dayron Robles of Cuba outran Americans David Payne and David Oliver in the 110 hurdles.

Nelson Evora of Portugal went 57 feet, 113/4 inches in the triple jump to win gold.

Bryan Clay of the United States led the decathlon after five events with 4,521 points, ahead of Andrei Krauchanka of Belarus, who had 4,433.

In other women's events, Barbora Spotakova of the Czech Republic threw the javelin 234-33/4 for the Olympic title, and Russia's Olga Kaniskina took the 20-kilometer race walk.

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Water Polo The Netherlands against the United States and, you guessed it, more heartbreak for the Americans.

Danielle de Bruijn scored seven goals in her final Olympic game, including the winner with 26 seconds remaining for a 9-8 victory in the gold medal match. The Americans came back from a 4-0 deficit, but couldn't stop De Bruijn.

"I face a knee surgery, and after that, I am retiring from international competition," she said. "It has been tough years and now I think I will do other things in my life besides water polo."

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Basketball

Diana Taurasi scored 21 points and Tina Thompson added 15 to help the U.S. women pull away from Russia 67-52 to make the gold medal game against Australia. They will play Australia, which routed China 90-56.

"We were ready for this test, and it was a test," U.S. point guard Sue Bird said. "They played a great game. Even when we weren't making our shots, they seemed to be making everything. We never got rattled. We stayed poised and our defense really led us through this."

The U.S. had been averaging 99.2 points as they cruised through the first six games, winning by 43 points a contest.


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