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Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings, Beach Volleyball
They knew everything there was to know—how to counter an opponent's strategy on the fly, how to spot a team that was intimidated by their reputation, how to blunt the charge of young pairs who came out fired up to take them down. After more than a decade as teammates and two Olympic gold medals, there wasn't a situation on the sand that they hadn't seen before.
But two months before the London Games, their last competition before May-Treanor's retirement, the duo wasn't playing or practicing up to their own exacting standards. There was a tension that they couldn't quite identify. With the help of a sports psychologist they realized what it was: "It was the last tournament we were ever going to play together, and we were afraid of disappointing each other," Walsh Jennings (above, right) says.
The pair who knew each other like sisters had to learn one more thing about their relationship—that win or lose, neither would ever feel let down by the other. Armed with that knowledge, May-Treanor, 35, and Walsh Jennings, 34, mostly cruised to an unprecedented third Olympic gold, losing only one set along the way.
They haven't seen each other much since the Games, but they realize there's plenty of time for that. "We both know there's someone out there who will be a friend for life," Walsh Jennings says. For these wise old vets, that may be the best knowledge of all.
There is a downside to unrelenting success: 16 years after its turn as media darlings in Atlanta, the women's basketball team couldn't get journalists to show up to its games in London. The U.S. was such a heavy favorite to win a fifth straight gold medal that it seemed only off-court drama or—gasp—a loss might pique interest. But this collection of low-maintenance gym rats, led by three-time Olympians Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird and Tamika Catchings, refused to provide either.