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Beach Volleyball

Age, Injury Are Biggest Factors as U.S. Men and Women Try to Find Some Gold Hidden in the Australian Sand

September 10, 2000|MIKE BRESNAHAN


* OVERVIEW--The old-timers, Karch Kiraly and Sinjin Smith, will once again be at the Olympics.

As spectators.

The U.S. beach volleyball torch has been passed to four new players, indicative of the turnover the sport has experienced since it debuted in the Olympics in 1996.

Kevin Wong and Rob Heidger emerged as the top U.S. team from the confounding qualifying process that requires teams to successfully compete at such locales as Macau and the Canary Islands.

The other U.S. team, Dain Blanton and Eric Fonoimoana, qualified for Sydney in an 11th-hour performance, passing Kiraly and Adam Johnson for the last U.S. spot in the final tournament.

Kiraly, 39, dislocated his shoulder in an early round of the tournament, while Smith, 44, and partner Carl Henkel were never a serious threat to represent the U.S.

"The old guys can only carry us so far," Fonoimoana, 31, said. "They've done a great job, but you need the young guys to step up. Hopefully the new breed will do it."

Blanton, 28, and Fonoimoana open against Oliver Oetke and Andreas Scheuerpflug of Germany.

Wong, 27, and Heidger, 31, do not get much domestic exposure because they do not play on the Assn. of Volleyball Professionals tour, instead playing exclusively at international tournaments.

An extremely tall team for the beach arena, the 6-foot-7 Wong and 6-8 Heidger fluctuated in success throughout the qualifying process, finishing as high as second and as low as 25th.

Wong and Heidger play Jody Holden and Conrad Leinemann of Canada in the first round.

* OTHERS TO WATCH--Jose Loiola and Emanuel Rego of Brazil. Loiola's explosiveness and Rego's steadiness are a potent combination.

Ze Marco de Melo and Ricardo Santos of Brazil. The second-best team in the world--and in Brazil.

* BEST STORY--What happens if Wong loses? Based on a story dating to his days at UCLA, it could get interesting. After the Bruins unexpectedly lost to Penn State in the 1994 NCAA championship match, Wong ran several miles to the team hotel in a fit of anger.

* SOUTHLAND ATHLETES ON U.S. TEAM--Dain Blanton, 28, Laguna Beach High, Pepperdine; Eric Fonoimoana, 31, Mira Costa High, UC Santa Barbara; Kevin Wong, 27, UCLA; Rob Heidger, UC Santa Barbara.

* KEY DATES--Sept. 22, round of 16. Sept. 24, quarterfinals and semifinals. Sept. 26, bronze- and gold-medal matches.


Fast Fact

* Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes won the gold medal in Atlanta, the first time beach volleyball was an official Olympic event. The U.S. team of Mike Whitmarsh and Mike Dodd won silver.

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