ATHENS — For American men, the Olympic beach volleyball tournament had been golden. For American women, the Olympics had brought only frustration -- no medals in 1996 in Atlanta, none in 2000 in Sydney.
On Sunday, fortune turned.
For the first time since beach volleyball became an Olympic sport, the American men will not win gold -- or, for that matter, any medal. In blistering-hot conditions, the last remaining U.S. men's duo, Dax Holdren and Stein Metzger, were beaten in a tournament quarterfinal by Patrick Heuscher and Stefan Kobel of Switzerland, 21-16, 21-19.
A few hours later, as late afternoon shadows crept across the sand, Holly McPeak and Elaine Youngs, seeded fourth, eliminated Okka Rau and Stephanie Pohl of Germany, 21-17, 21-17. Later, under the lights, Kerry Walsh and Misty May, the top-seeded team, defeated Guylaine Dumont and Annie Martin of Canada, 21-19, 21-14.
The American teams play each other today, the winner advancing to Tuesday's gold-medal match. "The pressure is on all of us," Walsh said.
The loss by Holdren and Metzger underscored the increasingly international nature of beach volleyball -- the game that exemplifies the California beach scene.
In 1996, Karch Kiraly, teaming with Kent Steffes, won gold in beach volleyball's Olympic debut. Kiraly and Steffes beat another American team, Mike Dodd and Mike Whitmarsh. In 2000, Americans Erik Fonoimoana and Dain Blanton won gold. They beat Ze Maraco de Melo and Ricardo Santos of Brazil.
In Athens, Blanton and Jeff Nygaard were eliminated in pool play, failing to win even one match. That left only Holdren and Metzger, who had barely squeezed into the round of 16 on a tiebreaker, then beat a German team to make it to the quarterfinals.
On Sunday, with the thermometer on the sand reading 107 degrees, the Swiss team proved too much for the Americans. "It was really hot out there," Holdren said afterward. "You have to really give them credit. They didn't make a lot of errors and played good volleyball. They were just better than us today."
In one semifinal today, the Swiss will play top-seeded Ricardo Santos and Emanuel Rego of Brazil. In the other, Julien Prosser and Mark Williams of Australia play Javier Bosma and Pablo Herrera of Spain.
Opposite the all-U.S. duel in the women's competition, Adriana Behar and Shelda of Brazil, silver medalists in Sydney, play Natalie Cook and Nicole Sanderson of Australia.
McPeak and Youngs haven't beaten Walsh and May since September 2002.
"We're expected to lose, basically," McPeak said Sunday. "We've gone up against them, gone up against them and haven't been successful. So we have nothing to lose. And I think sometimes when you go out like that, there's less pressure on you and, you know, you can be aggressive and knock them off.
"That's what we're looking to do. I like being the underdog."