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For most players, Olympics trump AVP tour

August 10, 2007|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

The AVP Tour is in Manhattan Beach this weekend with all its stars in tow -- a welcome relief for the players, agents, attorneys and tour officials who for most of this season have been battling behind the scenes.

The issue: players' rights, with the most pressing concern whether athletes could skip certain AVP events to play on the international tour and earn valuable Olympic qualification points.

At an AVP stop last week in Chicago, several top players, including the top women's team of Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor, skipped out in order to play in Austria -- the culmination of a season-long standoff.

The players say they wanted to compete in Austria because it was a Grand Slam event offering one-third more Olympic qualification points. Conversely, the AVP was offering double points in the season-long Crocs Cup race and had commitments to sponsors and NBC, which was broadcasting the Chicago tournament.

"It's very simple," said Todd Rogers, who has teamed with Phil Dalhausser to form the top men's team on the AVP and played in Austria last week. "The Olympics are the No. 1 thing in this sport. I understand the AVP's position, but I put the Olympics ahead of the Crocs Cup."

The AVP has no beef with players trying to qualify for the Olympics, but tour executives were puzzled by the players' stance because there are country quotas for the Olympics. Two American teams qualify, meaning they are competing against one another for spots -- not against teams from other countries. That means that if no American team played in Austria, none would have gained or lost ground in the race for Beijing. Also, the AVP allows players to play in any international event that doesn't conflict with an AVP tournament.

But some players contend that the more international tournaments they play, the more opportunities they have to improve their standing. Olympic qualification standings are determined by using the points earned in each team's top eight finishes.

The tour relented, allowing teams two additional dispensations to play overseas. "There were some issues, but there are no issues right now," AVP Commissioner Leonard Armato said. "The players wanted to play in a few more events, we allowed them to play in those events and it's over."

For now, maybe, but the issue could arise again next year when Olympic qualification intensifies. May-Treanor and Walsh have nearly secured one of the women's spots, but there is a heated battle among three teams for the second spot.

One the men's side, a three-way battle for the two Olympic spots is expected to go down to the wire. Stein Metzger and Mike Lambert lost some ground in that race when they chose to play in Chicago. Metzger said the decision was out of loyalty.

"This was the tour that we grew up watching," Metzger said. "There was no Olympics when we were growing up. There was only the AVP. It was time to show our support at this crucial juncture."

The AVP and its players have unsuccessfully lobbied the U.S. and International Olympic committees to install a domestic qualification process similar to that in place for swimming and track and field.

"The process automatically pits the AVP against its own players," Rogers said. "It's happened in the past, it's happening now, and, until it changes, it will happen in the future. Because the process is flawed, both sides are forced to take a position."

peter.yoon@latimes.com

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Beach volleyball

What: Manhattan Beach Open.

When: today-Sunday, women's final is Saturday at 1 p.m.; men's final Sunday at 1 p.m.

Where: Manhattan Beach Pier.

Tickets: Free for general admission, $40 for courtside seating.

Television: NBC, Saturday and Sunday, 1:30 p.m.

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