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Blanton, Fonoimoana Samba on Brazilians at Bondi

Joyous Americans win the gold medal by upsetting the third-seeded team, 12-11, 12-9.


SYDNEY, Australia — Things you thought you would never see at Bondi Beach:

* Apparel more suited for a crisp Saturday afternoon at a University of Michigan football game. String bikinis? How about plastic rain gear?

* Juan Antonio Samaranch, the president of the IOC, rocking out to none other than the Village People. There he was in pinkish rain gear at the beach volleyball venue at Bondi Beach this afternoon, clapping in rhythm to that old classic "YMCA." Don't think there are too many renditions of that tune in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Then, the eighty-something Olympic leader did the wave. Hmm, let's think about that one.

* And, last but not least, an American not named Karch winning a beach volleyball gold medal. The unheralded American team of Dain Blanton of Santa Monica and Eric Fonoimoana of Hermosa Beach, seeded ninth, will leave Sydney with the gold medal. They defeated the third-seeded Brazilian team of Ze Marco de Melo and Ricardo Santos, 12-11, 12-9, in 1 hour 45 minutes, setting off a joyous celebration on a rainy day.

They were efficient in seizing the victory, putting away the Brazilians on the first match point. The match was punctuated in powerful fashion with Fonoimoana's block of Marco's kill attempt.

The two Americans hit the sand one more time--in victory. Blanton jumped on top of his partner and they celebrated, caked in sand. A thrilled Blanton grabbed the American flag and started running around the court.

"The only way we played that well was to play against a team that good," Blanton said to the crowd afterward.

De Melo and Santos, devastated at the result, offered congratulations. In 1996, the American men also won the Olympic beach volleyball event, taking the top two spots, as Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes beat Mike Dodd and Mike Whitmarsh in the final.

The Brazilian pair had not lost to the Americans in four previous matches, including three this year. The closest the Americans had come in the four losses was in July in Norway when they lost 15-12.

"If you look at the record, it's a complete upset," Blanton said.

It looked like a repeat of those other matches as the Brazilians started quickly and moved to a 10-7 lead in the first set. They reached 11-8 and the Americans staved off four set points.

Santos likely won't forget the third set point at 11-10. De Melo gave him a relatively easy set-up at the net, and Santos netted the put-away. That gave the Americans new life, although they had to fight off one more set point, and Fonoimoana forged the escape with an easy tap-in.

At 11-11, the Americans took the first set when De Melo's smash went long.

With the huge surge of momentum, the Americans went up 3-0 and 4-1 in the second set before the Brazilian team rallied.

Leading the loud cheers from behind the press box was none other than Brazilian tennis star Gustavo Kuerten, the two-time French Open champion known as "Guga."

Guga was going gaga over his Brazilian mates, jumping up and down and singing and chanting after every Brazilian success.

He took pictures and turned into a beach volleyball cheerleader. Good thing he didn't have to worry about such bothersome things as the tennis competition, having lost to Yevgeny Kafelnikov the day before in the quarterfinals in men's singles.

On this day, the Americans were not to be denied, finishing off this tournament of destiny. The kids on the sand had just one second-place finish on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour, to 11 first-place finishes by the Brazilian team.

But today they beat the Brazilians at their own game, and in true Brazilian style, maybe these two Southern Californians deserve to be known by one name, in the Brazilian custom--Daino and Fono.

Better yet, how about the Kings of Bondi Beach?




Gold: United States

Silver: Brazil

Bronze: Germany

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