BEIJING (AP) China's women leaped over a line drawn in the sand Thursday, winning their nation's first medals in beach volleyball.
Wang Jie and Tian Jia put up a strong challenge to the unbeatable Americans, Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor, before falling in the gold medal match 21-18, 21-18. Xue Chen and Zhang Xi - at 19 and 23 the youngest team in either the men's or women's field - won the bronze by beating Brazil's Renata and Talita 21-19, 21-17.
Those performances were sensational considering China was 2-11 in Olympic play going into the Beijing Games; no men's team had qualified for the games before this year.
"The American team is better than we are," Tian said. "They are more experienced and stronger. But we have made great strides for these Olympic Games. This is the best that we could do."
It doesn't look to be long before China is a power in the sport. The national federation has spent lots of money to organize beach volleyball in a country not known for its sand and surf. Just as China has done in dozens of other sports, it has become a player in beach volleyball.
Walsh and May-Treanor, who have never lost a set in winning the Athens and Beijing gold medals, not only noticed the Chinese improvement, but expected it.
"The Chinese federation works very hard and they come out with a good game plan every time," Walsh said. "They will continue to get better because they work so hard at it."
And they made the Americans work extremely hard for this title. The 36 points they allowed were the most Walsh and May-Treanor gave up in Beijing.
"These girls motivate us more than I can even tell you because they are so good," Walsh said.
"Coming in, we knew it would come down to us and China," May-Treanor added. "It's what you want to see.
"The Chinese women are getting better and better. We knew China would be going for it in these Olympics."
The Chinese look to be tougher to beat on the international scene leading to the 2012 Olympics. If Walsh and May-Treanor aren't still playing - both said they plan to continue but want to start families - it's entirely possible the Chinese will be the favorites in London.
"We have absorbed a lot of valuable experience, such as how to attack and defend against good teams, how to solve problems we encounter on the court, and how to adjust our strategy and calm down," Xue said after winning bronze.
She and Zhang had lost in the semifinals to the other Chinese duo 22-24, 29-27, 15-8 in the longest match of the tournament.
"These medals are very significant for China, for the people, for the federation and for the players," Xue said.