BEIJING (AP) Athens gold medalists Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor overcame five set points in the first set to beat Belgium 24-22, 21-10 on Friday and advance to the quarterfinals of the Olympic beach volleyball tournament.
Liesbeth Mouha and Liesbet van Breedam led 18-12 and 20-17 in the first set of the best-of-three. Beach volleyball matches are up to 21, but the team must win by two, so it wasn't until May-Treanor and Walsh scored three straight points after trailing 22-21 that they secured the set.
"You can't assume anything. That's the lesson learned. They came out really on fire and Misty and I didn't," said Walsh, who was celebrating her 30th birthday. "Once we got our mojo going, we were really confident."
It was the 105th consecutive victory for the Americans, who won the gold medal in Athens and have been partners since 2001.
"We were like girls when we joined, and now we're like women. We've seen each other get married and now were going to start families," Walsh said.
The Americans, who have not lost a set in Beijing, won the clinching set in a more characteristic 15 minutes.
"We were a little bit scared to win the set maybe because it's something unbelievable," said Mouha, whose pair only qualified for the medal round by winning a "lucky loser" consolation match late Thursday night.
Walsh and May-Treanor had been playing every other day in the pool round at 9 a.m. - prime time TV back on the East Coast of the United States - never needing more than 37 minutes to win. They played Thursday morning and didn't find out until the 11 p.m draw that evening that they would be back the next morning.
"You're just kind of waiting, (saying) 'Should I go to bed or not," May-Treanor said with an exasperated sigh. "(But) we like playing at 9 o'clock. We want everybody to watch us."
Playing on consecutive days is standard on beach volleyball tours - sometimes they play three times a day - but Walsh and May-Treanor apparently needed took some time to get warmed up.
Besides, Mouha and van Breedam had it even worse: They finished their "lucky loser" match at 10 p.m. and had an even quicker turnaround. Youngs and Branagh went to bed not knowing what time they would play, then had to wake up at 6 a.m. to stretch and scout the Cubans.
The other American women's team, Nicole Branagh and Elaine Youngs, also advanced Friday morning, beating Dalixia Fernandez and Tamara Larrea of Cuba 21-15, 21-13. The two U.S. teams would not meet until the gold medal game.
"We'll give (Walsh) a belated birthday present on the 21st," Youngs said with a smile. "Hopefully a silver medal.
Walsh was planning to spend her birthday having Peking Duck with her family and watching the U.S. indoor women's volleyball team play China. A party is planned for Saturday night, but Walsh might have to leave early.
"The party will continue," her father, Tim Walsh said, "but she'll be gone."
Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal also faced their first challenge of the games before winning their round-robin finale on Thursday night over Japan. The Americans overcame two match points to beat Kentaro Asahi and Katsuhiro Shiratori 21-15, 19-21, 18-16 and reach the medal round with a perfect 3-0 record.
"Was it even close? It didn't feel close," Gibb said with a relieved smile. "That was what we needed (to get ready for the medal round). We needed to have a sideout for the match."