Sept. 22, 2010, 11:42 a.m. (ET)

Ten years ago, Dain Blanton and Eric Fonoimoana carved their names in Olympic history.

The beach volleyball players did so by earning gold at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.

Looking back, what most people do not remember is that the duo was seeded ninth going into Sydney.

“We sort of had a pre-Olympics before the actual Olympics because there was high stress and high fear before getting on the team itself,” Fonoimoana said.

It took Blanton and Fonoimoana until the last possible tournament, in Oostende, Belgium, to qualify for the Games. And in doing so they impressively beat out Olympic legend Karch Kiraly and Adam Johnson for the second, and final, American spot. Kiraly had won the first-ever beach volleyball gold at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, as well as indoor gold at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games and Seoul 1988 Olympic Games.

“No one gave us much of a chance to do anything,” Blanton said. “Being there without a lot of expectations worked to our advantage.”

In their first match in Sydney, they played and defeated the German team of Oliver Oetke and Andreas Scheuerpflug, 15-7, to move into the round of 16. Then they beat the Norwegian team of Vegard Høidalen and Jørre Kjemperud, 15-13, to move onto the quarterfinals, where they would face the only other American team, Rob Heidger and Kevin Wong.

“That was probably our most proficient game we’ve ever played in terms of scouting, in terms of preparation, in terms of wanting to win really badly,” Blanton said. “We ended up beating them 15-2, which is kind of a beatdown.”

Next, they played their toughest game yet against Portugal’s João Brenha and Migeul Maia. Brenha and Maia finished fourth in Atlanta and were determined to get themselves onto the podium this time.

Points were hard to come by for either side and it took around 70 minutes for the pairs to tie the score at 10-10. Brenha and Maia earned their 11th point and then Blanton and Fonoimoana called a time out.

That was when things got a bit bizarre for the Americans.

“The referee pulled out a red card and gave us a delay of game infraction without giving us a warning, without a yellow card,” Blanton said.

“He gave me a red card for wiping off my sunglasses and saying I was delaying the game, so he gave Portugal a free point,” Fonoimoana said.

“The fact of the matter is the Portugal team wasn’t even on the court anyway,” Blanton said. “It was so strange.”

Instead of getting mad, they got revenge.

Blanton served an ace cross court, on the line, and brought the score to 11-12. His next serve was an ace down the line and then the score was tied.

“Dain and I are a very streaky team, meaning if we got hot we could beat anybody,” Fonoimoana said. “We are very aggressive by our style of play.”

They won the next point on a block by Fonoimoana and switched sides – making sure to not waste any time before their next serve. Blanton served and they scored on a defensive play. 14-12, in a game that was played to 15.

“And then I served one more and it was an ace down the middle,” Blanton said. “We ended up getting five points in a matter of five minutes, as opposed to it took us an hour to get to a deadlock at 10.”

That win put them in the gold-medal match against Brazil’s Zé Marco de Melo and Ricardo Santos, who were seeded third.

Blanton and Fonoimoana already achieved the mission they went to Sydney with, to “bring home some jewelry.”

They had a day off before the big match and reevaluated their goal.

“My whole thought process was, ‘Even if we don’t show up, we win a silver medal, so let’s make sure we’re gonna go there and do something special.’” Blanton said.

The two teams had played each other four times already that year and the Brazilians came out on top each time.

“The Brazilians thought the medal was theirs before the game even started,” Fonoimoana said. “I just recall Dain and I talked about let’s keep it close and if we can steal the first game, we’ll put a ton of pressure on them.”

In a unique format of two out of three games, win by one, Blanton and Fonoimoana’s strategy paid off when they won the first game, 12-11.

“In the second game it seemed like the weight was getting heavier and heavier for them and we were just playing loose and very confident,” Fonoimoana said. “And when that happens, we’re very strong and a very tough team to beat.”

Blanton and Fonoimoana won the second game, 12-9, and struck Olympic gold.

“It was basically a dream come true,” Blanton said. “It was awesome to continue the legacy started by Karch Kiraly and Ken Steffes in ’96 and it was cool to do it in the face of adversity and in the face of no one really thinking that you could pull it off.”

For Fonoimoana, it was a childhood dream fulfilled. When he was 7, his sister, Lelei, swam the 100 meter butterfly and 4x100m medley relay in the Montreal 1976 Olympic Games, and inspired him to go to the Olympic Games one day.

“My sister gave me one of her Olympic pins from 1976 and she said, ‘Make us proud,’” Fonoimoana said. “I held onto that thing all the way through the qualifying process and then I took it with me to the Olympics.”

As many partners did, Blanton and Fonoimoana split ways after rule changes went into effect in 2001. The new rules favored a big blocker at the net, and at 6’3” they both needed to search for big blockers.

Blanton teamed up with Jeff Nygaard to become the first two-time U.S. male beach volleyball Olympian at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, but they did not get past the first round of play. He played with Wong in 2005 and finished that season with the fifth most aces and ninth most digs.

“I haven’t officially retired but I stopped playing at the end of 2008,” Blanton said. “The door’s open to get out on the court again and I didn’t think it was important to put a book end on it, but maybe one day I will.”

Fonoimoana played with Dax Holdren, as well as Wong, and had continued success until 2004.

“Last time I won was in 2004 and I stayed around longer because I was very close to the million dollar mark in career earnings,” Fonoimoana said. “Main reason why I stopped was I couldn’t win and my body felt weak and tired.”

After playing two tournaments in 2008, Fonoimoana reached the million dollar mark in career earnings and stopped playing to focus on his new title: real estate broker.

In ’04, Fonoimoana passed his real estate exam and has been buying and selling homes in the Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach areas for the past six years.

“I like real estate and it’s similar as far as what I’m used to in my lifestyle, which is flexible hours,” Fonoimoana said.

Fonoimoana is also president of Dig 4 Kids, an education and sports program he founded back in 2000.

“It’s an afterschool program in the inner city,” Fonoimoana said. “It’s two hours of education and one hour of exercise. It’s the fundamentals that I had as a kid – you do your homework, then chores and then after that you can go and play.”

Now that he has been heading it up for 11 years, Fonoimoana was hoping the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) would take over Dig 4 Kids, but that thought died when the AVP folded this past August.

“It’s really a downer that it fell apart and has been mismanaged the way it has to the point where the season stopped,” Blanton said. “I think it’s important that the beach volleyball community let it be known that we want to get something going.”

Blanton is currently trying to figure out what the next move is for beach volleyball in the United States. But his primary career now is in the broadcast world.

In 2007, he started doing color commentary for the AVP. That gig led to the high school football package for FOX, which led to UCLA football sideline reports and UCLA and USC basketball sideline reports and eventually a full-time job following the NBA Clippers for FOX Sports.

“It’s a lot of fun to be on the other side of the camera and still being involved in sports,” Blanton said. “But it’s a lot of work and I have to play a lot of catch up because while I was playing volleyball all those years, people were practicing their trait of being a broadcaster.”

Blanton and Fonoimoana will team up for a big event coming up, but it is not a volleyball match. On Sept. 25, Dig 4 Kids is throwing a party for the 10th anniversary of Blanton and Fonoimoana’s gold-medal performance. They have invited friends, family and anyone in the Hermosa Beach area who remembers what they did in Sydney.

“I wanted to put a video together for my kids to have, and it’s a great way for Dain and I to remember it,” Fonoimoana said. “We get caught up in our lives and don’t look back on what we accomplished, which is huge.”