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SYDNEY 2000 SUMMER OLYMPICS | VOLLEYBALL

Only Bummer at Bondi Is Early Exit of U.S. Women

September 23, 2000|ALAN ABRAHAMSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SYDNEY, Australia — Surf. Sun. Sand. Beers. Bikinis.

Just another fine and bodacious day for women's beach volleyball at Bondi, and in case you missed the message about just how fantastic it is, they're only too glad to remind you about it with this loud song that pumps over the loudspeakers:

"Big surf. White sand. Blue water--the best in the land!" Pay attention to the pounding bass because the song is building to its catchy refrain: "Suntanned boys. Beautiful girls. Come together from all over the world--I'm talking about Bondi!"

Sing it loud and proud--they sure do here, where it's a real scene inside and outside the 10,000-seat stadium thrown up on a spit of white sand between the funky beach town of Bondi and the deep blue Tasman Sea.

The only downer? The play today of the two American teams. They were both bounced from the quarterfinals--meaning that, for the second Games in a row, there will be no U.S. women's team claiming any sort of medal in the game that rules the Southern California beach scene.

Holly McPeak of Manhattan Beach and Misty May of Costa Mesa lost to Brazilians Sandra Pires and Adriana Samuel, 16-14. Jennifer Johnson Jordan and Annett Davis, both of Tarzana, fell to Yukiko Takahashi and Mika Saiki of Japan, 15-9.

Later, in the semifinals, Pires and Samuel were defeated by Australians Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst, and Takahashi and Saiki lost to another Brazilian team, Adriana Behar and Shelda Bede. The Aussies and Brazilians will play Monday for the gold.

The two U.S. men's teams meet Sunday in the quarterfinals--Dain Blanton of Santa Monica and Eric Fonoimoana of Hermosa Beach against Robert Heidger Jr. of Redondo Beach and Kevin Wong of Los Angeles. American men won gold and silver at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

The 31-year-old McPeak took the loss particularly hard. Four years ago, in the inaugural Olympic volleyball competition, she was favored to win a medal. Instead, playing with Nancy Reno, she finished fifth.

She and May, 23, had widely been considered medal contenders at Bondi.

"It's a great place to play volleyball. The court is perfect," McPeak said after today's match. Sighing, she added, "It would have been a great place to win a gold medal."

Bondi is indeed a great place to play--and watch--volleyball.

Outside the stadium, it's your basic surf town--with the unusual cast of characters one sees in beach towns the world over.

A guy with tattoos lining his left arm spent most of his morning cruising one of Bondi's main drags, O'Brien Street, at the wheel of his souped-up 1960s Plymouth Valiant, which had been painted a bright orange.

Besides the bikinied women, the sidewalks were jammed with bleary-eyed coffee seekers ruminating at the many cafes on the night before and with Orthodox Jews, the men garbed in black, strolling to Sabbath services.

And, of course, with surfers--clad in their own black suits--on their way to the tasty waves. The swell died considerably by noon, leaving the crew to bob just outside the surf line to the visual delight of those inside the stadium.

"It's real cool here," said Jason Fishelberg, 30, of South Brunswick, N.J.

Wrapped in an American flag, he said, "All the Australians I work with are complaining [the stadium] ruined the beach. They didn't ruin the beach. Instead, you really get the feeling you're right on the beach. Well," he said, "because you are."

Added a bikini-wearing friend, Sharon Casey, 28, of Ridgewood, N.J.: "It's the best event at the Olympics to go to. You're having beers in the sun. There's great music. For the guys, how can they complain? There's all that and women in bikinis."

Yes, that. "If you're happy and you know it, tap your feet!" a trumpeter blared out between points.

The stands rocked with stamping feet.

On the sand itself, in the first match of the morning, the Japanese dished up seven aces in dispatching Johnson Jordan--the 27-year-old daughter of Rafer Johnson, gold medalist in the decathlon at the 1960 Games--and Davis.

"It takes consistency to win and they were definitely consistent," Davis said.

Brazil's Pires won gold in 1996, Samuel silver--when both were with different partners. Their strategy against McPeak and May, Pires said, was to "concentrate the ball on Holly because," at 5 feet 7, McPeak was "the shorter one."

The game was a see-saw affair throughout. The Americans took a 9-7 lead. The Brazilians came back to tie. The Brazilians went up, 13-12. The Americans came back.

Up 14-13, the Brazilians served for the match--but could not convert. On her serve, May made a diving sideline dig, then scrambled to her feet to dink the ball over the net to tie the score at 14-14.

After several side-outs, Pires made the score 15-14 with a big serve. Going for it all, she served again, hard--but hammered it long.

May served. Samuel responded with a kill.

Finally, off Samuel's serve, the Brazilians got the set-up they wanted. McPeak went for the block. But Pires slammed the ball over her outstretched hands for the point and the match.

May and McPeak said that they "lacked aggressiveness." They were at a loss to explain why.

Their loss is likely to be a bummer for the women's pro tour in the States, which could use the publicity bump of an American Olympic medalist. It may also hold funding implications for U.S. volleyball for the 2004 Athens Games; new U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Norm Blake has vowed to tie funding levels to medal counts.

Heads down, McPeak and May left the interview room. "I still think we could have gone further, and should have," McPeak said on her way out.

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