Manager, Media Relations and Publications
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Feb. 18, 2009) – USA Volleyball was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Olympic beach volleyball silver medalist Mike Whitmarsh.
According to published reports, Whitmarsh, 46, was found dead Tuesday (Feb. 17) in Solana Beach, Calif.
"We are shocked and saddened by the sudden and unexpected passing of Mike Whitmarsh," USA Volleyball CEO Doug Beal said. "The Olympic volleyball family and all of USA Volleyball have lost a wonderful person and remarkable athlete and performer.
"Our deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences go out to his family for their loss at this tragic time."
Whitmarsh and partner Mike Dodd won the silver medal in the inaugural Olympic beach volleyball competition in 1996 in Atlanta. They lost to fellow Americans Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes in the gold medal match.
"Olympic volleyball players are a unique and special collection of people and we always feel very deeply when that special family is touched by tragedy," Beal said.
"The best way for me to put it is that we played together for six years. When you play together for that long on the beach, you go through everything together," said Dodd, who initially partnered with Whitmarsh in 1993. "In the end, you are much more like a brother than a friend or a fellow competitor. Mike was like my brother."
"I don’t know if you will find in all of sports someone who was better liked by all of his peers, meaning competitors," Kiraly said. "That’s very rare to find, especially in a sport like beach volleyball when everybody is going after each other for prize money.
"He was really a big part of the growth of beach volleyball in the late ’80s and early ’90s. He was a part of a group of guys who were truly compelling to watch and riveted fan attention."
Whitmarsh earned more than $1.4 million in his domestic pro beach volleyball career, winning 25 titles, which placed him sixth on the U.S. career earnings list. Whitmarsh was the AVP Rookie of the Year in 1990 at age 28 and was named its Best Blocker in 2002.
Additionally, Whitmarsh won more than $150,000 and had three first-place finishes along with six silvers and one bronze in 18 FIVB beach volleyball events. Whitmarsh ranks ninth in the overall career-earnings list (international and domestic).
In 2003, USA Volleyball named Whitmarsh to its 75th Anniversary Beach Volleyball All-Era Team. The AVP presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004.
"He was an incredible athlete,” Dodd said. “In his prime, he was getting up higher and hanging longer and doing more things at the net than anyone. But what was really incredible was his quickness and speed."
Whitmarsh played his final FIVB matches in 2003 and his last AVP matches in 2004 at age 42.
In January 2008, Whitmarsh was one of five Olympians to go on the U.S. Army Olympic Heroes Goodwill Tour of Afghanistan and Qatar.
Whitmarsh, 6-foot-7, was born in San Diego and attended Monte Vista High and Grossmont College in California before transferring to the University of San Diego. In 1984, he led the school to its first West Coast Conference basketball championship. He was drafted by the Portland Trailblazers and played briefly with the Minnesota Timberwolves before beginning his pro beach volleyball career.
Along with Dodd, Whitmarsh partnered with Canyon Ceman, Brian Lewis, Jon Stevenson and Brent Frohoff among others during his beach career.
"When we first saw him we all thought, 'Oh my God, who is this guy?' " Dodd said. “He was taller and longer and jumped higher than anyone we had seen. But he didn’t know how to play volleyball. He didn’t have an arm swing. He moved to Manhattan Beach and paid his dues.”
"He started with a real disadvantage," Kiraly said. "But picking up the sport as late as he did to become one of the best in the world is a mind-boggling accomplishment."
"At 6-foot-7, he was one of the original big men in what used to be a sport with no big men," Kiraly said. "He paved the way for the Phil Dalhaussers, Mike Lamberts, Matt Fuerbringers and Jeff Nygaards. He gave hope to big men everywhere."
Whitmarsh is survived by his wife, Cindy, and two daughters, Jaden and Kendall.
For those interested in sending their condolences to the Whitmarsh family, please send to:
13841 Rancho Capistrano Bend
San Diego, CA 92310
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations can be made to:
The Jaden and Kendall Whitmarsh College Fund
c/o Torrey Pines Bank
12220 El Camino Real
San Diego, CA 92130
The Mike Whitmarsh Memorial Basketball Fund
http://www.usdtoreros.com/ (click on the Giving link)
University of San Diego
5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110
Read the San Diego Union Tribune's story at www3.signonsandiego.com/stories/2009/feb/18/1s18mike222117-volleyball-basketball-standout-foun/?zIndex=54532.
Read Canyon Ceman's remembrance at www.avp.com/News/2009/02/Remebering-Mike-Whitmarsh.aspx.