Branagh, Youngs lose to China in beach volleyball
BEIJING (AP) There go the chances of an all-American final in the women's beach volleyball tournament.
Xue Chen and Zhang Xi knocked Elaine Youngs and Nicole Branagh out of the quarterfinals on Sunday, improving to 5-0 against the U.S. pair and ending any possibility of Youngs and Branagh meeting fellow Americans Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor in the finals.
The victory by Xue and Zhang sets up an all-Chinese semifinal and guarantees the host country's first-ever medal in the sport.
Xue, at 19 the youngest player in the men's or women's fields, and Zhang won 21-17, 21-13 to earn a spot in Tuesday's semifinal against the top-seeded Chinese team of Tian Jia and Wang Jie. The Chinese, who as a country were just 2-11 in Sydney and Athens, are guaranteed at least a silver medal.
"We'll do our best," Xue said, "and whichever team wins will still be a Chinese team."
Zhang and Xue were the favorites of the crowd at the Chaoyang Park venue, hustling through a throng of autograph-seeking volunteers to make it to the post-match news conference. They were each given stuffed animals, and Zhang took her stuffed teddy bear and gave Branagh a kiss on the chin with it; she then gave the toy to the somewhat surprised American.
"Beach volleyball is a sport that is entertaining in nature, but advocates a true fighting spirit," Zhang said. "I think the four of us played very well tonight."
Branagh and Youngs led 13-10 in the first set before China scored five straight points, then pulled away at 17-16 by winning four of the last five points of the set. The Americans never led in the second set, with China scoring three straight points to turn a 6-5 game into a 9-5 lead and coasting to victory.
"It just wasn't a good day for me to have an off-day," said Branagh, who was in her first Olympics. "We've had a tough time with them this year. Today, the better team won."
In other matches on Sunday, Walsh and May-Treanor advanced to the final four with a straight-sets victory over Brazilians Ana Paula and Larissa. They'll play the other Brazilian team, Talita and Renata, who beat Australia's Tasmin Barnett and four-time Olympian Natalie Cook 24-22, 21-14.
The oldest player in the women's field, the 38-year-old Youngs won the bronze medal in Athens and was playing in her third Olympics overall. She arrived in the post-match news conference with her eyes red from crying, and struggled to get through it.
Announcing her partial retirement - she's done playing internationally, but might still hit the domestic tour - she wished her partner luck. Branagh, 29, is likely to see Zhang and Xue for many years to come.
"They are a very good, young team and they will probably get better," she said. "But I am going to get better, too."