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BEACH VOLLEYBALL

Mixed Bag for Americans at Olympic Event

September 20, 2003|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

U.S. men's beach volleyball teams, so used to claiming, "We're No. 1" after winning gold medals at the last two Olympics, faced a confounding question Friday.

Who's No. 2?

In an otherwise perplexing day, some U.S. men's teams were surprisingly good and others stunningly poor in the wide-open race for the country's second spot in next year's Athens Olympics.

Dain Blanton and Jeff Nygaard, the top U.S. team in the Olympic qualifying standings, looked fine at the Swatch Federation Internationale de Volleyball/Nissan Grand Slam Olympic qualifying tournament at the Home Depot Center.

But Nygaard strained his back in the second match and might not be at full strength today in the round of 16.

The uncertainty didn't stop there.

The trendy pick to excel in the tournament, the newly formed team of ex-Olympians Eric Fonoimoana and Kevin Wong, inexplicably flopped and finished 17th. Another new team, Dax Holdren and Stein Metzger, pulled off the day's biggest upset with a sweep of the world's top team, Brazil's Emanuel Rego and Ricardo Santos.

How unpredictable was Friday? The U.S. team with the second-most Olympic qualifying points, Sean Scott and Todd Rogers, was nearly eliminated after winning only one of three matches. Not quite the stuff gold medals are made of.

Blanton said: "It's a jumble behind us."

So much so that a couple of old-timers -- Karch Kiraly and Mike Whitmarsh -- played as well as anybody.

Kiraly, who will be 43 in November, went 2-1 in pool play with Brent Doble and advanced to the round of 16. Whitmarsh, 41, and partner Canyon Ceman went 3-0 in their pool.

Kiraly said Blanton and Nygaard "have a good shot at doing something special in the Olympics. The other [U.S.] spot is wide open, even more so surprisingly this weekend."

Kiraly, who won the gold medal with Kent Steffes at beach volleyball's Olympic debut in 1996, will decide whether to try for Athens after this tournament.

"If we did fourth or better, I'd have to think about [it]," Kiraly said.

Only two men's teams from each nation can qualify for the Olympics by successfully competing on the 13-month FIVB tour, which will have 17 to 20 tournaments before Athens.

This week's tournament, which ends with the men's and women's championship Sunday, is a grand slam event worth double the normal qualifying points.

*

The women's tournament went as expected, with top-seeded Misty May and Kerri Walsh advancing to the round of 16 without a problem. The other top U.S. team, Holly McPeak and Elaine Youngs, also advanced out of pool play.

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