LONDON -- The rain came and went but wasn’t an excuse. Nor was there a reappearance of the notorious London fog, which hadn’t been an issue around here in forever.
But as Wednesday evening unfurled and the time encroached upon midnight, a strange thing happened to the U.S. women’s beach volleyball team of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings.
They lost a set.
In the Olympics.
It had never happened to the two-time defending gold medalists, who were 16-0 in lifetime Olympic matches without ever dropping a set.
They rallied to beat Austria’s sister tandem of Doris and Stefanie Schwaiger, 17-21, 21-8, 15-10, but something seemed amiss to need all this work against the world’s 13th-ranked team.
With the ferris-wheel-like London Eye eerily present in the backdrop of the Horse Guards Parade venue, all eyes turned to the left one of Walsh-Jennings.
It was inflamed and red. She had contracted conjunctivitis via a family member. Her depth perception was off, leading to a handful of misjudged angles while receiving serves. It took the whole first set for her to adjust to life with one eye.
“This morning I woke up looking like Rocky Balboa,” she said, quickly adding, “But it had no effect on our performance tonight.”
The U.S. moved to 3-0 in pool play and advanced to the round of 16, which will begin Friday or Saturday against an undetermined opponent.
The beach volleyball venue continued to be festive and gregarious, fans seemingly uncaring when Big Ben chimed midnight despite two more workdays left in the week.
U.S. basketball player Carmelo Anthony showed up beforehand, took stock of the surrounding party in the stands and grabbed a microphone.
“We want to play in front of this crowd right here,” he said, smiling.
Then May-Treanor and Wash-Jennings took the court. They weren’t flawless, but they were good enough on a day when they needed just that.