China assured of first beach volleyball medal

Aug. 19, 2008, 9:09 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) China has clinched its first-ever beach volleyball medal, with top-seeded Tian Jia and Wang Jie winning an all-China semifinal Tuesday to advance to the championship against defending Olympic champions Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor of the United States.

Brazil and the United States have dominated beach volleyball since it became an Olympic sport, winning 12 of the 18 total men's and women's medals awarded since 1996. On the women's side, no nation other than Brazil, the United States or Australia had ever reached the podium.

But the hosts crashed the Olympic beach party this year, putting a pair of teams in the women's final four to clinch at least a silver. Tian and Wang beat Xue Chen and Zhang Xi 22-24, 29-27, 15-8 on Tuesday in a grueling, 1 hour and 14 minutes to advance to the gold medal game.

On the men's side, Wu Penggen and Xu Linyin won their round-robin pool and lost in the round of 16. At 22, Xu was the youngest player on the men's field; Xue was the youngest in the women's field, and she and Zhang formed the youngest team on either side.

"The whole Chinese program has gone from nothing to gold medals in four years," American Elaine Youngs said after losing to the other Chinese team in the quarterfinals. "I expect them to be hanging tough with the Brazilians and the Americans."

Walsh and May-Treanor advanced to the championship game with a straight-sets victory over Brazil, beating Renata and Talita 21-12, 21-14 for their 107th consecutive victory on Tuesday.

"I think they are going to be the Olympic champions, for sure," Renata said. "I think nobody is going to beat them. We are happy to go for the bronze."

The United States has now reached the podium in all four Olympics since beach volleyball was added to the games in 1996.

"We're not done. We are absolutely not done," Walsh said. "We came here to win."

The Brazilians will play Xue Chen and Zhang Xi for third place.

"I think their destiny is the bronze," May-Treanor said, predicting a Brazilian victory. "I told them, 'I'm going to see you up on the podium,' and we'll be sitting side-by-side again."

Just as she did four years ago, May-Treanor sprinkled some of her mother's ashes on the sand before the semifinal, saving another half-portion for a similar ceremony at the gold medal game.

"You can't leave home without her," May-Treanor said, tapping the plastic film canister she used to carry Barbara May's remains. "But she'll stay here."