Ali Wood's Olympic Report - Aug. 22, 2008

Sept. 02, 2008, 11:25 a.m. (ET)

We got to sleep in a bit yesterday because the gold medal match was not scheduled until 11 am.  This was a blessing as Kelly (our physical therapist), Troy (Misty and Kerri's coach) and I did not get back from the indoor men's match until 1 am.  Well worth the late night considering the five game thriller over rivals, Serbia. 

We woke up to heavy showers and gray skies...not ideal beach volleyball weather.  One thing that is interesting is the small psychological advantages that the Chinese take.  During most matches The Beach Girls, the FIVB's version of bikini clad Laker Girl type dancers, are a multi-ethnic group decked out in bright pink or green. However, during Chinese matches they feature all Chinese Beach Girls decked out in red and gold bikinis...just like the Chinese team.  Ok, so I am not certain that this had much of an effect on either team, but still is interesting to note.

Despite the downpour and the huge psychological edge provided by the Beach Girls, Misty and Kerri proved yet again why they are the best team ever to play this sport.  The ball was water logged and the Chinese team was serving tough, including two let serve dribblers for aces. But Misty sided out consistently and the combo of Kerri's big block and Misty's uncanny ability to know where the ball is going before the hitter does proved to be too much for China. USA wins gold!!

 We had a fun celebration at the USA House where Troy was presented with the Order of Ikkos medallion, given to coaches of gold medal winning teams. It is nice to see the coaches get recognized, as so often they get very little credit, especially in beach volleyball.

This morning we had pretty much the same medal match at 1100.  The only difference is that we woke up to beautiful blue skies.  The stadium was packed for USA vs. Brazil, and for the first time that I can remember, the USA fans out numbered the Brazil fans.  Many Chinese people were waving American flags and cheering "U-S-A!". The match was a see-saw as Brazil jumped out to an early lead. Marcio-Fabio are a very emotional team that sometimes struggles with their consistency...polar opposites to Todd and Phil, who were able to creep back and win game one.  Brazil won game two and the stage was set for a three game battle. But Phil decided he was having none of that, as he served and blocked their way to a 15-4 gold medal victory.  Go USA!

I made my first trip to China in 1993 to play two pre-FIVB era events.  It was difficult travel; 11 hour bus rides over partially paved roads, electricity that would go out without warning, foods with heads attached.  Coming back with the FIVB in the late '90s and early '00s wasn't much better, and I learned to bring a flashlight, a suitcase full of canned tuna and crackers, and my own pillow and sheets.  Boy have things changed!  The food everywhere has been excellent. The transportation has run nearly perfectly. The air is not bad and the streets are clean.  No one bats an eye at foreigners walking around without escorts.

Another thing that has changed since that first trip in '93 is the beach volleyball.  At those first tournaments we were beating the Chinese 15-4 without too much effort.  But their coaches and athletes have created a system that has built some very talented young athletes. It is amazing that in 15 short years China has become an international powerhouse.

There is one area where the Chinese could use a little help...concessions stands!  While the fans were marveling at the fact that beers cost roughly 90 cents, the stands were really limited...drinks, a biscuit, or chips were about the only choices, but they would not let outside food in.  They could have made so much money if they had hot dogs, pretzels, scorpions on a stick, or something interesting.

Now we are off to another medal celebration!!