WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sounding an ominous note for her Olympic competitors, Misty May-Treanor believes she has become a better player since winning the beach volleyball gold at the Athens Games without losing a set.
The affable Californian says that being 31 years old when she and Kerri Walsh travel to Beijing next month to defend their title will be an advantage and not a handicap.
"Definitely experience helps," the American said. "It's taken me about six years to really figure it out, training-wise, what works best for my body.
"I don't do the same training as Kerri, Kerri doesn't do the same as me. Everybody's a bit different. It just takes a while to figure out what you need.
"But you do get better with age. Maybe a little slower. But experience in beach volleyball comes into play when you get in those tight matches when fatigue sets in. I'm a lot wiser."
May-Treanor getting better in the sport is not welcome news for teams hoping to dethrone the defending champions in the sport, which has been at the Olympics only since 1996.
Despite a shoulder injury to Walsh earlier this year and a new coach, the duo are steamrolling through the beach volleyball season and appear primed for another gold-medal run.
May-Treanor, however, believes this year's tournament will be the most competitive since the fan-favorite sport entered the Games. Only the United States, Brazil and Australia have claimed the Olympic gold in either the men's or women's game.
"Across the board every country is getting better," she told a media gathering in Chicago. "There are a couple of German teams that are excellent. You have Brazil.
"You have three Chinese teams. Another USA team. Greece and Australia are excellent. It's really anybody's battle. And at the Olympic Games, that's what you want to see.
"Whether we're playing the 32nd seed or the second, Kerri and I have to be playing the best we can at all times."
May-Treanor's position as arguably the world's best beach volleyball player is no surprise given her genetics.
Her father, Butch, was a member of the 1968 U.S. men's national volleyball team, while her mother Barbara was a former nationally ranked tennis player. Her cousin, Taylor Dent, was on the 2004 U.S. Olympic tennis team.
She is married to a professional baseball player, catcher Matt Treanor of the Florida Marlins, and says she would like to start a family one day but it becomes problematic when the paths of professional athletes rarely cross.
"From February to November in '07 we only saw each other for two weeks," she said. "That was like a day here, two days there. He only gets to see me compete live once a year, in Thailand, because it's after his season is over."
May-Treanor would not rule out another Olympic run in 2012 but said it was tough to think past Beijing. However, she is certain that when her career ends she will be done with the beach.
"I want a ranch where I can see wildlife, not road kill," she said. "The only time I'm at the beach is to practice or play. I grew up on the beach.
"When I'm at the beach it's hard for me to lounge out and not do anything. When I go there, I always end up playing. I like the mountains. I don't get to see them too often."
Editing by Clare Fallon