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Volleyball Olympians are fuming

Eight beach players are angry over treatment of a team leader and a credentials flap, and there is talk of splitting from USA Volleyball.

July 27, 2008|Chris Hine | Times Staff Writer

Olympic gold medalist Misty May-Treanor was fuming Saturday over USA Volleyball's choice of team leader for the Beijing Games and a resulting credential flap involving the person who carried out that role in 2004.

And she wasn't alone.

May-Treanor said she was "disgusted and ashamed" with the way USA Volleyball and Olympic officials have prepared and organized the U.S. beach volleyball team's trip to Beijing, where the Games begin Aug. 8.

Her sentiments were shared by the seven other Olympic participants, all of whom played at this weekend's AVP Long Beach Open.

Three-time Olympian Elaine Youngs, a bronze-medal winner in 2004 with her former partner Holly McPeak, said the relationship between the players and officials has deteriorated so much that she said the only way to remedy the situation would be for beach volleyball to break away from USA Volleyball and form its own federation.

"Nothing has ever changed with USA Volleyball," Youngs said. "Every single Olympics is so unorganized, the people they hire are incompetent, they have no experience."

At the root of their concerns is the handling by the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Volleyball of the credentials of Al Lau, team leader at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

As team leader, Lau's responsibilities included obtaining tickets for family members and providing travel, eating and housing accommodations while the athletes prepared for the Olympics. Team leaders also provide players with materials they need, such as tournament information and films.

This year, USA Volleyball Chief Executive Doug Beal designated Lau a team leader along with Ali Wood, USA Volleyball's director of international and high performance beach programs for the last two years. But because high-access (or A-O) credentials, which allow team leaders greater access to players and facilities than other credentials, were available in limited numbers, Lau did not receive one until Saturday. Wood had one from the start -- a situation that did not sit well with the players.

Players have been critical of Wood's ability and experience to handle all the demands required to help them prepare in an Olympic tournament. They say they prefer Lau, whom they have worked with on the AVP Tour as well as the last Olympics.

"The reason we want Al is very simple -- we just trust him," said Todd Rogers, who with partner Phil Dalhausser is ranked No. 1 in the world. "I trust him probably more than anyone else at USA Volleyball, at the AVP or the USOC."

Beal said Wood was the first to get the higher-access credential because of her experience coordinating FIVA tournaments the last two years, whereas Lau has not worked on the international level during that time.

Beal added that the wishes of the players are not the deciding factor in choosing a team leader.

"Certainly we take into consideration someone who is compatible with the team and can help with team performance," he said. "But neither for the indoor teams nor for the beach teams do we necessarily poll the athletes and make it a popularity contest."

Youngs questioned that compatibility and said Wood was "useless" to the players at past FIVA events.

"Ali hasn't earned anyone's respect or trust," Youngs said. "And it's harsh, but I am really upset with this whole process."

Asked about Youngs' comments, Wood replied, "I'm just disappointed that the situation is not allowing the athletes to focus on their competition."

Lau declined to comment.

Wood said Saturday that Lau has received his A-O credential. May-Treanor and Youngs said that would be an improvement, but also said it should have been done a long time ago, and that the resentment and mistrust the players feel toward USA Volleyball will not disappear.

"We have a competition to represent our country, win gold medals and the rest of it," Youngs said. "They've made it very difficult for us to do our job."

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In a Long Beach Open men's final that matched the two Beijing-bound Olympic pairs on Saturday, Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal defeated Dalhausser and Rogers, 21-14, 21-14.

In the second game, Gibb and Rosenthal captured 10 of 11 points to take a 19-9 lead.

"All I wanted us to do was not think about the lead and to focus on the next point," Gibb said. "I've been up on those guys way too many times [only] to have them come back and beat us. My mind would wander and say, 'Oh God, we can pull this off,' and then I'd go, 'Ah, get rid of that thought and focus on the ball.' "

"Now they know how everyone else feels when they play them," Rosenthal said.

The loss ended Rogers and Dalhausser's 37-match winning streak. Their last loss came in the semifinals at Atlanta on June 1.

The two women's Olympic teams, May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh and Youngs and Nicole Branagh, advanced to the semifinals, with the prospect of facing each other in today's final.

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chris.hine@latimes.com

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