LONDON - United States pair Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh won their third straight Olympic gold medal in women's beach volleyball by beating compatriots Jennifer Kessy and April Ross 21-16 21-16 in the final on Wednesday.
May-Treanor and Walsh took gold in Athens in 2004 and again in Beijing in 2008. No other beach volleyball team, men or women, have retained an Olympic title, let alone won a third.
At the end of the match, the two women fell to their knees face-to-face in the sand and hugged.
Then they got up, bathed in tears, and ran off in different directions to embrace family and friends and do high fives with Olympic volunteers.
After a while, May-Treanor returned to the sand and performed a few solo dance moves, which she later described as "the shuffle".
"It's insane," said Walsh, her mascara smudged from tears.
"It doesn't feel like it's real. I told Misty when we were getting our medals, 'If I wake up tomorrow and we have to replay this match I'm going to be furious', because it feels like we're in a dream."
"It truly feels surreal. And it didn't feel like that the first two times, for whatever reason. But this is just, it's almost too good to be true."
Walsh was in tears throughout the medal ceremony, closing her eyes, throwing her head back and exhaling as she struggled to control her emotions. May-Treanor, who will now retire from competition, smiled and appeared relaxed on the podium.
Kessy and Ross, the 2009 world champions, were competing in their first Olympics. They have spent much of their careers in the shadow of Walsh and May-Treanor and the final was no exception.
"They are the best team of all time," said Kessy.
In the first set, both teams came out looking strong and composed and the quality of play immediately hit world-class level. The pairs answered each other's powerful spikes and blocks point-for-point and barely an error was made in the first 20 points as the score ticked to 10-10.
But May-Treanor and Walsh began to gain an edge as the set progressed, varying their tactics and executing each move with clinical precision, before winning it.
The second set followed a similar pattern, with the scores keeping level until the low teens. Kessy and Ross kept their cool and kept attacking, but they could not prevent the more experienced pair from edging ahead and taking victory.
It was a remarkable result for May-Treanor and Walsh, who spent more than two years away from the sport after their gold medal in Beijing.
Walsh had two children less than a year apart while May-Treanor was out with an Achilles injury picked up rehearsing for the TV programme "Dancing with the Stars" in 2008.
After lengthy soul-searching, the pair got back together in 2011 for an attempt at winning a third gold.
Earlier, Brazilian world champions Juliana Felisberta and Larissa Franca took bronze by beating China's Zhang Xi and Xue Chen. (Editing by Ken Ferris)