Never again in sports? Possibly… but I’m not so sure


Baseball… perhaps more than any other sport… lives in history as much as it lives in the present day or the future. The players and accomplishments of yesterday are discussed, cherished and honored for professional baseball more than any other sport. And to say that they significantly influence the fans and opinions of modern day efforts is no exaggeration.

And we will begin this essay with baseball and the story of Johnny Vander Meer.

In 1938, Vander Meer pitched two consecutive no hitters.

I’ve heard this thought expressed several times… most notably attributed to Pete Rose, but I can’t find a true, definitive origin. Suffice to say, it’s out there, and here it is -- the most unlikely accomplishment in sports to be beaten is Vander Meer’s consecutive no hitters, since in order to do it someone would have to pitch three consecutive no hitters.

And now over to London and the Olympics.

You may have heard that Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings finished off an incredible career as beach volleyball partners at these 2012 Olympics. They won their third straight gold medal… and in Olympic competition this pairing has never lost a game, and have gone 42-1 in sets over 21 Olympic matches.


It didn’t take 24-hours before it started. Jon Ackerman: “Misty May & Kerri Walsh’s three-peat won’t be repeated.” (This was linked to an NBC sports Olympic article, with the link no longer active.)

In the article, Ackerman outliens some really good points. After all, it isn’t even just winning three straight… there’s a level of dominance involved that is bordering on impossible, hard to believe when you think about it, and certainly can’t be denied.

Plus… to break the record would require either a perfect run of 21-0 in games and never dropping a set, or, four Olympic titles with a comparable display of brilliance.

Let’s switch things over to the Spanish national football team for a moment to gain some material for consideration. The Red Fury won the 2010 World Cup. Then in 2012, they captured the Euro title. Guess how they did in the Olympics of 2012?

They were eliminated early, going 0-2-1 in the preliminary round.

Dominance is nothing to be taken lightly. Success over several championships is impressive. And three Olympics… meaning at least 8-plus years of efforts… is quite a period to time to be considered the established elite.

But here’s what Ackerman said: their three-peat won’t be repeated.

In one sense, he’s probably right. Because even if, as we just covered, a team wins three straight gold medals, the only way to match it would be to go undefeated along the way and only drop one set. The only way to better the accomplishment would be to never lose a set. Not one. Perfection.

But let’s put some things into perspective here.

How many gold medals have been awarded in beach volleyball as an official Olympic sport? Any guesses?

Beach volleyball was played in 1992 as a demonstration event. It became an official sport in 1996. And, in history, there have as a result been five winners of gold medals in women’s beach volleyball.

So… our amazing team has won three of five medals. Again… dominance. But… the history is a little short on this one.

What struck me about Ackerman’s article though was two things separate from the specific accomplishments of this pair: (1) Especially in sports, the media is amazingly quick to take a result and predict what will or will not happen in the future… usually something like anointing the champions of one year as the favorites for the next. The articles might be based on whether a team repeats as much as an examination of how well-equipped they are to repeat, but it still happens. (2) It didn’t take long for “that won’t happen again” to be associated with Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings. Just a few hours… and in some cases, the idea was being presented before they even won their third medal.

As I have noted already… I don’t think Ackerman is just saying that some pair of athletes couldn’t win three gold medals in Olympic beach volleyball. I do believe he’s pointing out that going 21-0 is a ridiculous accomplishment to top. Fair enough.

But at these very Olympics in London, Michael Phelps won two gold medals for the third straight time… the 100m butterfly and the 200m individual relay. We’ve seen several areas… the 100m and 200m meter champion, gymnastics, and so on where never-before accomplishments have now become for-the-first-time accomplished.

Hey… check out Al Oerter, Carl Lewis, Paul Elvstrom and Ben Ainslie… each with four gold medals in their Summer Olympic sports. That’s four… as in, more than three.

Oh… I hear you… team sports. Ok…

Between 1936 and 1960, Hungary won gold medals in team sabre for fencing. (Aladar Gerevich was on the team for 6 gold medals, and Pal Kovacs won 5.)

We can find equestrian events… basketball… biathlon… and so on with 4 or more consecutive gold medals for countries and teams.

Now… sure… team rosters change. We are talking about two female beach volleyball players and a record streak that almost certainly will never be equaled or beaten. It would require perfection for three Olympics to top it, and arguably a fourth gold medal to truly break it. And even then, unless the team in question doesn’t drop a single set over three medals, the dominance factor stands. My point is different than whether or not this will actually be repeated or topped.

For me, this is an example of a great situation, and I’m always a bit stunned by how quickly the “never happen again” tag is pulled out in some form. Or, more precisely, how the media reacts to events.

In part, I guess it makes sense. As I write this article, it is apparent to me how special a run Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings have had. I mean really… 21-0 is ridiculous. And it is something that we have all been given the opportunity to watch and appreciate. The media shouting from the internet and bringing attention to it is a good thing, and an appropriate thing. Sports is a world where an audience gets to enjoy the spectacle of something that has never before been accomplished, or to witness something that may never happen again.

Never is a long time though. And in a sport that doesn’t have a lengthy Olympic history… in a London Olympics setting that has had other athletes win three straight gold medals or realize accomplishments while displaying dominance as well… it seems a bit funny to effectively and immediately say it’s impossible for it to happen again.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at