The 12 in ’12 series celebrates the fact that the London 2012 Olympic Games are less than two years away. The series previews 12 athletes who have proven themselves as true competitors in past Games and look to win medals for Team USA in London. The 11th part of the series features the beach volleyball team of Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers, who earned an Olympic gold medal at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
Olympic gold medal. FIVB World Championships gold medal. No. 1-ranked team on the FIVB World Tour.
Beach volleyball partners Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers have been the ones to beat since officially teaming up in 2006. Known as the ‘Thin Beast’ [Dalhausser] and the ‘Professor’ [Rogers], they managed to win the FIVB World Championships in only their second season together. They followed that performance up by earning Olympic gold at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. After a bronze-medal performance at the 2009 World Championships, they had no trouble rebounding and are the top-ranked team on this season’s FIVB World Tour. Less than two years from now, they will try to repeat their Beijing performance in London and win an unprecedented second consecutive Olympic gold medal.
The Veteran and the Rookie
Todd Rogers was born and raised in Santa Barbara, Calif., only 90 minutes away from Santa Monica, the birthplace of beach volleyball.
He started playing indoor volleyball competitively in the fall of his freshman year at San Marcos High School and, naturally, played beach volleyball in the summer. One of his high school teammates was Dax Holdren.
Rogers and Holdren parted ways when Holdren went to Santa Barbara City College and Rogers chose to attend the University of California, Santa Barbara (USCB). At UCSB, he played on the indoor team from 1993 to 1996 and still ranks second in both career digs and career assists at the university.
After graduating, Rogers reunited with Holdren and they played in the 1996 Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) Tour and the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) World Tour.
Rogers was named AVP Rookie of the Year in 1997 and the team won its first domestic tournament in 1998, two years before earning its first FIVB World Tour win.
The season after Rogers and Holdren began having international success, the court dimensions changed from being 9 meters x 9 meters to 8 x 8.
“He’s 6-3, I’m 6-2, and you needed a big guy to block,” Rogers said. “So we played one year on a short court, and then we moved on.”
He partnered with Sean Scott in 2002 and in their four years together, the two reached the podium four times on the AVP Tour.
Scott is 6-5, a disadvantage in beach volleyball. Rogers said when the two would reach the end of a tournament Scott was tired from trying to block players who were 6-8.
“I had a blast playing with Sean,” Rogers said. “And Sean is a great blocker, but I needed a guy who could help me win on the international scene.”
Enter Phil Dalhausser.
Dalhausser was originally born in Baden, Switzerland, and moved to Ormond Beach, Fla., when he was 1. Like Rogers, he played indoor volleyball in high school. Dalhausser’s indoor coach took the team to the beach in his junior year, where he realized he enjoyed playing beach volleyball more.
He was named the Most Valuable Player at the University of Central Florida, where he earned a business degree. After graduating, Dalhausser worked for a concrete company for a few years, before moving west to Santa Barbara and teaming up with Nick Lucena on the 2005 AVP Tour.
At the end of that season, Scott’s finger broke and he was unable to play in the World Championships with Rogers. Rogers, who had been playing on the national and international tours for close to a decade at that point, thought Dalhausser, the 6-9 rookie, would be the right guy to replace Scott.
“I felt like a guy like Phil was bigger and more intimidating,” Rogers said. “The way that people score points in beach volleyball nowadays is with a big block, so I needed an intimidator.”
Thin Beast and Professor Click
Dalhausser proved to be the perfect intimidator that Rogers needed. The two clicked and at the 2005 FIVB World Championships, their first tournament together, they came in seventh place, the highest finish of any American men’s beach volleyball team at that tournament.
“We both have good ball control,” Dalhausser said. “We’re just sturdy players.”
Dalhausser’s height and blocking skills were good for Rogers, and Rogers’ expertise and knowledge of the sport were exactly what Dalhausser needed.
Dalhausser didn’t pick up the sport until his junior year of high school and was not exposed in Florida to the elite players that Rogers watched growing up in California. So what Dalhausser needed most was coaching. The coach turned out to be his partner.
“Our first few months of practices was just me filling him with my knowledge,’’ Rogers said. “I like to pat myself on the back and tell myself I did a good job.”
In 2006, the partners started playing together full time and won eight tournaments on the AVP Tour, as well as one FIVB World Tour tournament.
The following season, Rogers and Dalhausser really made a name for themselves on the international scene when they won the 2007 FIVB World Championships in Gstaad, Switzerland.
“It was pretty damn cool,” Dalhausser said. “For me, it was extra special because a lot of my family still lives in Switzerland and my parents came [from Florida] to watch. It was cool to win a tournament with my family there in Switzerland.”
They were the first American men to earn the gold medal in the tournament’s 10-year history and the ‘Thin Beast and the Professor’ showed the world what was so special about their relationship. (The Professor is a nickname Rogers was given by AVP announcer Chris ‘Geeter’ McGee, who said Rogers has a black book on every player and keeps track of every player; as for Dalhausser, well, he really is a thin beast, on the court at least.)
“We’re not super animated players,” Rogers said. “A lot of people knock on us because of that, but I think that’s a real treat for us. We can play well with or without emotion. The other team doesn’t know where we’re at. We can give up four or five points and we’re not going crazy. When we do score points, we’re not going crazy either, and I think that a lot of teams get fired up when they score.”
With World Championship gold under their belts, there was only one thing left for the mellow team to achieve in order to prove their dominance in the sport: Olympic gold.
“That was our goal from the beginning,” Rogers said. “In 2006, when I started playing with him, I said, ‘The ultimate goal here is to win gold in Beijing. That’s why I want to play with you.’ ”
At the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, Dalhausser and Rogers saw that ultimate goal come to fruition. They won six of the seven matches they played in Beijing and earned the gold medal.
“It was the best feeling ever, times a thousand,” Dalhausser said. “It was an experiment that worked out. He took a chance on me and all that paid off.”
That was the third men’s Olympic beach volleyball victory for Team USA. Beach volleyball was added to the Olympic program at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, and the only time Team USA did not capture a gold in the men’s Olympic event was at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.
Digging for More Gold
As much as Rogers and Dalhausser enjoyed their success from Beijing, the whirlwind that followed the Games took its toll on Rogers and Dalhausser – so much so that Rogers looks back at the 2009 campaign as a limbo year. Still, the end of the year, they took home bronze from the biennial FIVB World Championships.
After 2009, Rogers, at 36, had to determine his future in the sport. He chose to keep playing and together, he and Dalhausser are making a run for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
“Now it’s the same kind of run-up,” Rogers said. “We’re doing everything we can to make sure that we are completely prepared and ready when London rolls around.”
And so far, the team is doing a great job at that. This season, the kings of the beach are undefeated on the AVP Nivea Tour and recently won their 500th match together.
Internationally, they have won seven tournaments on the 2010 FIVB World Tour and are second in career World Tour wins. They said the sport is not as easy to them as they make it look out on the court.
“The World Tour is really competitive right now,” Dalhausser said. “It’s more competitive than it’s ever been because there are a lot of good European teams now. Before it was just USA and Brazil. Now it’s Germany, Spain, Netherlands, China. So by no means is the sport easy, there are so many good teams out there.”
But they’re having the time of their lives dominating this year.
“It’s become a lot more fun for me,” Rogers said. “I’ve accomplished everything I’ve wanted to accomplish. Now everything’s like gravy.’’
The pair will enjoy the sport and the magic it hopes to make together for at least two more years – but not much longer than that. Dalhausser said his tentative career plan is to play through to the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games, where he will be 36. But for Rogers, the London Games will be his last. He said he will play for the 2013 season, when he will turn 40 and likely retire.
He plans to enjoy every second of his last Olympic Games with Dalhausser as they attempt to become the only men’s beach volleyball duos to win back-to-back Olympic titles.
And in London, Rogers hopes to bring home gold for another reason.
“It’ll be a lot of fun because in Beijing I did not bring my kids,” Rogers said. “In London, they’ll be 13 and 11, and I think they can appreciate it. So the number one thing I’d be looking forward to is bringing them, and hopefully it’ll amount to a gold medal.”
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