Favored Americans drop beach volleyball opener
BEIJING (AP) Aleksandrs Samoilovs stood on the sand waiting for his Olympic debut as the announcer at the beach volleyball venue read through the litany of honors won by his opponents, gold medal favorites Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser.
Best hitter. Best blocker. Best setter. Best defensive player. Most improved player.
Reigning world champions.
"We thought we had no chance," the Latvian said Saturday after he and Martins Plavins upset the Americans 21-19, 21-18 on the opening day of the Olympic beach volleyball tournament.
"Of course we were afraid of them, because the last time we played them they beat us 21-8 (and 21-14)," Samoilovs said. "We put all our energies into this match and we had one of the best games of our careers."
Former junior world champions, the youngest team in the tournament and the 23rd seed in a 24-team field, Plavins and Samoilovs ended the Americans' 21-game international winning streak. Now Rogers and Dalhausser could need to win their next two matches in pool play to be assured of a spot in the medal round.
"Not the way we wanted to start off the Olympics," Dalhausser said.
The Latvians won the first set in the best-of-three set and led 17-12 before the Americans made it 20-18 on a vicious spike by Dalhausser. But on the next volley, the two-time winner of the international tour's best blocker honor went up for the stuff and the ball went off the side of his arm and to the ground.
Plavins dropped to his knees and pumped his fist, while Samoilovs fetched a Latvian flag to wave.
"They played great, and we played poorly. That combination, we got spanked," Rogers said. "If they play like that, they're going to do well. If we play like that, we're going to finish last."
In an earlier women's match, Brazilians Ana Paula and Larissa, playing together for the first time ever because of a last-minute injury that broke up one of the top teams in the world, stumbled in their first set before coming back to win their opener against Georgia.
"My first Olympic games, I'm feeling so happy to play together with Ana Paula," said Larissa, whose regular partner, Juliana, withdrew on Wednesday when she couldn't play through an anterior cruciate ligament injury. "Today was a 'fall in love day for me.'"
Ana Paula did not learn she had made the Olympics as a substitute until Wednesday night, Beijing time. She flew for 24 hours to get to China, arriving Friday morning and heading straight to the venue with her luggage for a technical meeting.
The two did not get a chance to practice together until Saturday morning.
"I need more time with Ana Paula," Larissa said after the 23-25, 21-17, 15-5 victory over Georgians Andrezza Martins das Chagas and Cristine Santanna.
On Friday night, Ana Paula barely slept, waking up at 3:30 a.m. and going to the gym at 5:30 rather than continuing to toss and turn.
"I had a tough night," Ana Paula said. "After lunch, I wasn't even talking to Larissa. I felt like I was a zombie. I knew the first set was going to be a battle."
In other women's games Saturday night, Americans Elaine Youngs and Nicole Branagh beat Merel Mooren and Rebekka Kadijk of the Netherlands 21-19, 27-25; Stephanie Pohl and Okka Rau of Germany beat Imara Estevez and Milagros Crespo of Cuba 21-17, 21-19.
For the men, Sascha Heyer and Patrick Heuscher of Switzerland beat Martin Alejo Conde and Mariano Baracetti of Argentina 21-13, 21-17. David Klemperer and Eric Koreng of Germany beat Norway's Jorre Andre Kjemperud and Tarjei Skarlund 19-21, 22-20, 15-7.