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US men look for beach volleyball gold

Aug. 20, 2008, 3:21 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Americans Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers are the reigning world champions and the favorites to win the gold medal in Olympic beach volleyball.

They just never expected it to be this easy.

"We had a pretty easy road," Dalhausser said Wednesday after steamrolling Georgia to reach the Olympic final and then watching Brazil's No. 2 team beat its best - the Athens gold medalists - to join the Americans there. "I'm really surprised."

Dalhausser and Rogers beat Georgia in straight sets in the semifinal, needing just 41 minutes to win 21-11, 21-13. They were off the court so quickly that Rogers still had a smear of sunscreen on his face at the post-match news conference; he didn't work up enough of a swear for it to wear off.

While talking to reporters with the other semifinal on the TV behind them, the Americans rooted openly for the underdogs to reach the championship. Marcio and Fabio obliged, beating Emanuel and Ricardo in two tough sets that didn't end until a referee overruled Ricardo's protest on the final point.

"It's only because they don't have the experience in the gold medal game," Dalhausser said.

Olympic rookies who have been dominating the world tour, Rogers and Dalhausser lost in their Olympic debuts to Latvia - the No. 23 seed in the 24-team field. And it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to them.

The victory earned the Latvians the empty title of Pool B champions and a spot in the brackets with two tough Brazilian teams and the No. 2 U.S. team of Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal; Latvia lost in the round of 16. While Dalhausser and Rogers wound up with a tough first-round draw, needing three sets to beat Switzerland, a series of upsets elsewhere has given them a clear path to the gold medal.

"Losing that first match was a blessing in disguise," Dalhausser said. "It put us into the weaker bracket."

They played the 20th seed, Switzerland, in the first round, and the second-best German team, a No. 8 seed, in the second. They dodged the fifth-seeded Dutch team when it was upset by No. 15 Georgia, and missed Emanuel and Ricardo - probably their biggest challenge - when they were upset by a team of fellow Brazilians that qualified beneath them.

"We've had a good draw," Rogers said. "No Brazilians. No Americans. there's an element of luck involved."

Emanuel and Ricardo will play for the bronze against Jorge Terceiro and Renato Gomes, native Brazilians playing for Georgia to avoid a quota that limits countries to two entries in the 24-team field.

The win by Rogers and Dalhausser gave the United States a chance to sweep the beach volleyball gold medals in Beijing. Americans Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor, the defending Olympic champions, will play China in the women's final Thursday.

That match, like all of their previous ones, is sure to attract a lot of attention on television back in the United States and at the venue, where a steady stream of NBA players and other Olympic celebrities have come to seen them play.

"All the athletes want to come here. All the fans want to come here," Rogers said. "It's a great atmosphere."

It's been decidedly better for the women's matches - in part, surely because the host Chinese put two teams in the final four. But the sport's history shows the attention is tilted toward the titillating: the women's skimpy uniforms, the cheerleaders wearing even less, the zoom shots of the players brushing off sand or holding up signals behind their behinds.

The women's matches have been scheduled in prime-time in eastern United States, and NBC has promoted Walsh and May-Treanor as stars of the games on a level usually reserved for gymnasts, swimmers and sprinters. Shots of Walsh signaling her partner - essentially, a close-up of her rear end - are prominent.

The network has also rolled out a spot for the sitcom "The Office," where actor Steve Carell throws himself behind the players for reasons unrelated to their athletic endeavors.

Over in Beijing, U.S. basketball players including Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have been out to the venue to see Walsh and May-Treanor. Swimmer Matt Biondi came to watch the other American women's team, Nicole Branagh and Elaine Youngs, who lost in the quarterfinals.

Even President Bush did a little bumping for the cameras with the women before chatting more briefly and posing for pictures with the men's teams.

"I don't blame the basketball players for coming out and watching the women," Dalhausser said. "Not many sports where you can see women wearing bikinis diving around in the sand. It's a fun sport to watch."

Rogers and Dalhausser lost their first point on Wednesday and then scored the next eight, opening up a 12-2 lead before the Georgians awakened. In the second, Rogers seemed to pass up opportunities that might have required more effort than the simple bump-set-spike they knew would be coming soon.

"We have another match," Dalhausser said. "We were up 10 points. There's no reason to waste energy."

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AP Television Writer David Bauder contributed to this story from New York.

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