LONDON -- The children of Kerri Walsh Jennings will have to stick around England a little longer.
Their mother made sure of that here Saturday night -- although the toddlers, ages 3 and 2, have not been complaining about their extended two-week residency at a downtown hotel.
"There's a park by the hotel," mommy reported exclusively to the Bay Area News Group. "And the kids can chase birds all day long. That makes them happy."
That's as opposed to the beach volleyball teams worldwide, which have spent the past three Olympic tournaments chasing Walsh Jennings (as she now prefers to be known) and partner Misty May-Treanor. And not catching them. The American pair won gold in Athens and Beijing.
And now they're in the quarterfinals here, thanks to a victory in Saturday's knockout-round match against the Netherlands team of Marleen van Iersel and Sanne Keizer.
"This," May-Treanor said, "is the Kerri and Misty that people came to see. We keep elevating."
The performance was easily the best of this tournament for America's dynamic duo, a two-game sweep of 21-13 and 21-12. But the subtext of this week remains in place. After the Games, Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor are ending their volleyball relationship because May-Treanor is retiring.
This means that with the tournament in elimination mode, any of their next matches could be their last. Neither woman is trying to think about it much. But the sober realization hovers
One of these nights, those bells will be farewell peals to the greatest beach volleyball pairing in U.S. history. Walsh Jennings, a Stanford and Archbishop Mitty High graduate from Saratoga, plans to continue with another partner for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. But no matter whom that partner is, she will never match up to May-Treanor in terms of accomplishments.
The beach game, being less than 20 years old as an Olympic sport, is not statistics-heavy. But if Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor win a third consecutive gold medal, it would make them as dominant as any competitors in any sport over the past three Games.
And, yes, that includes Michael Phelps. He has lost a few races. The undefeated Olympic match streak of Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor's stands at 18 and counting.
The streak dates to Athens in 2004. And in another telling fact, none of the teams there except Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor is still competing together. Only two other women who participated in Greece are even here. Nearly an entire new cast has revolved into the picture since their first gold medal, but Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor have yet to be defeated. What does that say?
"That we're awesome?" offered Walsh Jennings with a grin.
No argument here. Yet as recently as a month ago, there were doubts that they could reach the form they have hit at these Games. May-Treanor took more than two years off after Beijing, ruptured an Achilles tendon while appearing on "Dancing With The Stars" and decided only last summer to return for another Olympic lap.
The team's comeback was rocky. In 2011, Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor had more second-place finishes than first-place finishes. Walsh Jennings referred to it as "a gross year." And until London, this year had been even worse. They began the season with two ninth-place finishes and wound up fifth in an event as recently as June.
"But we were always pointing toward the Olympics," Walsh Jennings said.
It would appear so. Last week, the twosome's round-robin matches still had too many shaky moments and mental lapses. They even lost their first career Olympic set against an Austrian team they normally would have smoked. Saturday was much better.
After a skull session with coach Marcio Sicoli, Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor showed sharp execution against the Netherlands duo with merely five unforced errors. May-Treanor's hits at the net -- she always gets more attempts because opponents want the 6-foot-3 Walsh to set rather than spike -- were as strong as ever.
As both women concede, it's tougher to win in 2012 than it was in 2004. The overall beach talent level has also improved since Athens, as well as the style of play.
"There is now just a lot more physicality," Walsh Jennings said. "From the serving to the blocking to the hitting ... it's all tons harder. Now even the 'floater' serves are rockets."
In other words, if this ends in gold, it certainly would be Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor's finest hour. The playing conditions here haven't been easy. All their matches have been scheduled after 9 p.m. when the weather has been chilly. They haven't gone the full-bikini route once and occasionally have been forced into long pants and long-sleeved shirts.
Additionally, early in the tournament, Walsh Jennings developed a bad case of pink eye. For a while, she wouldn't shake opponents' hands for fear of spreading it. Saturday, with the eye much better, she was back to high-fiving everyone, including the officials as she left the sand court.
"I realized that the pink eye is all over the ball," she said. "So why don't I high-five?"
Next up Sunday will be Italy's Greta Cicolari and Marta Menegatti -- a duo that defeated Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor earlier this summer and once last year. So nothing is guaranteed. But you get the feeling that Walsh's kids will be chasing those birds around London until Wednesday's gold-medal match.
Contact Mark Purdy at email@example.com or 408-920-5092.