Rio 2016

U.S. Olympic Beach Volleyball History

2016 | 2012 | 2008 | 2004 | 2000 | 1996
Beach At The Olympics | Complete Olympic Performances

Rio de Janeiro, 2016
U.S. Finishes:
Bronze, Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross
5th, Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena
19th, Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson
19th, Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat

London, 2012
U.S. Finishes:
Gold, Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor
Silver, April Ross and Jennifer Kessy
5th, Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal
9th, Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers

There was some doubt about a royal run to a third Olympic gold medal for Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor in London's elegant Horse Guards Parade venue, but true believers were undaunted. The surprise was that the American duo wrapped up their career together playing against compatriots April Ross and Jen Kessy in the gold medal match.

"It's one thing to play an Olympic final and another to play one with people you know so well," Kerri said. "It ups the stress and anxiety levels. I was more nervous for that match than any other."

Despite the workmanlike 21-16, 21-16 triumph in 36 minutes, Walsh Jennings reached out to Ross right after the London final to inquire about a run for gold in Rio. The rest is history. Misty essentially ended her playing career in London, finishing off her fourth Olympics with a third gold.

"I wanted to do this for her (Kerri) and to finish with a win for both of us," she said. "We set our expectations really high as a team, as people and as players. We set the bar really high and extended ourselves over it."

The bar proved to be an obstacle on the men’s side for defending gold medalists Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers. They went 3-0 in pool play and entered the elimination bracket with confidence. However, Italy's Daniele Lupo and Paolo Nicolai played free and loose in the round of 16 and pulled off the tournament’s biggest upset – a 21-17, 21-19 drubbing of the defending champs. Dalhausser was disappointed but philosophical about the loss.

"Those guys are a great young team," he said. "Everybody calls them the young Todd and Phil, and they outplayed us and beat us at our own game."

Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal went one round further but lost in the quarterfinals to Latvia's Janis Smedins and Martins Plavins, who went on to win the bronze. Germany’s Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann took home the gold, denying Emanuel Rego his second gold. Rego played with Alison Cerutti, who is top-seeded in Rio with Oscar Bruno Schmidt.

Beijing, 2008
U.S. Finishes:
Gold, Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor
5th, Nicole Branagh and Elaine Youngs
Gold, Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers
5th, Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal

With double golds from Kerri and Misty and Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser, Beijing was the U.S.'s best beach Olympics. For Kerri and Misty, it was a continuation of dominance that capped an astounding two-season run of 11 FIVB victories in 12 tournaments. To win the second of their three Olympic golds, they defeated China’s Tian Jia and Wang Jie 21-18, 21-18 in the Beijing final to complete a 7-0 match record without losing a set. Kerri, ever the perfectionist, was happy but not fully satisfied. She found herself wondering afterward why she didn’t get more blocks against Jia's "squirrelly" line shot.

"It kind of bummed me out," she said. "Right when we won, I wanted to play again just to make sure I could still block that shot. I’m really glad we won, but it certainly wasn’t our best match."

In the men's bracket, Rogers and Dalhausser, who had established themselves as the world’s top team in 2008 with three consecutive FIVB titles leading into Beijing, didn't take the easy road. In their first pool match, they lost to 23rd-seeded Latvia. (Dalhausser said his legs were dead from standing for hours at opening ceremonies.) They bounced back, but they did have one other scare in an elimination match against Switzerland's Martin Laciga and Jan Schnider. In the third game, they found themselves down 6-0. Somehow, they climbed out of the hole, won the match to advance to the quarterfinals, then ran the table the rest of the tournament. In the final, they defeated Brazil’s Marcio Araujo and Fabio Luiz 23-21, 17-21, 15-4. The victory was validation that Dalhausser had become the best player in the world, although Phil himself, not one to brag, wasn’t willing to go any further than saying he would no longer "argue" the point. For the even-tempered Rogers, the true emotion didn’t hit until he was greeted by a crowd of flag-waving fans at his hometown airport in Santa Barbara, California.

"I usually try not to let people know how I'm feeling," he said. "If you show your feelings in volleyball, people can use it against you. I learned that from Karch. But seeing all those people (left me) almost speechless. I thought, 'I'm part of something pretty big here.'"

Athens, 2004
U.S. Finishes:
Gold, Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor
Bronze, Holly McPeak and Elaine Youngs
5th, Dax Holdren and Stein Metzger
19th, Dain Blanton and Jeff Nygaard

The first Olympic set for Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor should have been a clue as to what was on the horizon for the greatest women's beach volleyball team of all time. Kerri and Misty blasted Japan's Chiaki Kusuhara and Ryoko Tokuno by a 21-9 score, a rare single-digit rout in Olympic competition. The last set of the gold-medal match was a 21-11 victory over Brazil’s Bede and Behar, a humbling defeat for the highly regarded South Americans. Athens proved to be a launching pad for three gold medals and a flawless 21-0 Olympic record for Kerri and Misty.

After the event, Kerri had high praise for her partner. "I am so proud of Misty," she said. "She is the best player in the world."

Greece also marked the first time the U.S. women won multiple beach medals, as Holly McPeak and Elaine Youngs collected a bronze. It might have been silver if not for a semifinal draw pitting them against Walsh-Jennings and May-Treanor.

The U.S. men failed to win a medal in Athens for the first time after golds in Atlanta and Sydney. The American tandems of Dax Holdren-Stein Metzger (1-2) and Dain Blanton-Nygaard (0-3) were 1-5 in pool play. Holdren and Metzger did sneak into the elimination round, where they scored a three-set upset of Germany's Markus Dieckmann-Jonas Reckermann in the first round with a 15-13 comeback in the final set. Metzger put the match away with an acrobatic dig and transition swing that prompted Chris Marlowe to scream from the NBC booth: "That was the most important hit of Stein Metzger's volleyball career."

The Americans, however, lost the next match in the quarterfinals to eventual bronze medalists Stefan Kobel-Patrick Heuscher of Switzerland. Brazil's Emanuel Rego and Ricardo Santos won the gold, while Spain's Javier Bosma and Pablo Herrera claimed the silver. Herrera will be in the 2016 field in Rio, playing in the same pool with Americans Casey Patterson and Jake Gibb.

Sydney, 2000
U.S. Finishes:
5th, Annett Davis and Jenny Johnson
5th, Misty May-Treanor and Holly McPeak
Gold, Dain Blanton and Eric Fonoimoana
5th, Rob Heidger and Kevin Wong

If you're going to win one, why not the Olympics? Dain Blanton and Eric Fonoimoana had never taken the gold at an international event before the 2000 Sydney Games and they never did it again as teammates. But at Bondi Beach they were golden. Four straight victories took them to the final, where they upset Brazil's Ze Marco de Melo-Ricardo Santos 12-11, 12-9. That was another first. They’d never before beaten that team.

"We worked so hard to create that opportunity," Blanton said. "To capitalize on a once-in-a-lifetime situation was totally gratifying."

In the women's bracket, there was disappointment for the U.S., especially for Holly McPeak and Misty May-Treanor. They'd teamed up just before the 2000 season, leaving them well behind the other teams in qualifying points. But they caught up quickly, reaching six finals and winning twice in the nine tournaments leading up to the Olympics. A mid-summer abdominal injury to May-Treanor set them back, though, and they never recovered. In Sydney, they were knocked out of the tournament by Brazil’s Sandra Pires and Adriana Samuel, who beat them 16-14.

For McPeak, who had been one of the top players in the U.S. for a decade, the hurt was deep. "I'm dying to peak at (the Olympics)," she said. "I want that gold medal more than anything."

The women's gold went to the home-country team of Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst. Their feel-good story was similar to Blanton and Fonoimoana's. They'd only won once before – four years earlier – and the team they beat in the Sydney gold medal match was top-seeded Shelda Bede and Adriana Behar, who had won nine times over two seasons.

Atlanta, 1996
U.S. Finishes:
4th, Barbra Fontana and Linda Hanley
5th, Holly McPeak and Nancy Reno
9th, Gail Castro Kehl and Deb Richardson
Gold, Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes
Silver, Mike Dodd and Mike Whitmarsh
5th, Carl Henkel and Sinjin Smith

Many diehard beach fans would agree that the highlight of the inaugural beach Olympics tournament in 1996 wasn’t the gold medal match but, rather, the men's quarterfinal between Karch Kiraly-Kent Steffes and Sinjin Smith-Carl Henkel. For two years preceding the Olympics, there had been some friction between the beach icons, Smith and Kiraly, who had once been successful beach partners and were former teammates at UCLA. They disagreed, among other things, on the Olympic beach qualifying procedure. That friction gave the showdown in Atlanta extra sizzle.

As it turned out, Smith-Henkel gave their heavily favored American rivals "all they could handle," in Karch’s words. Kiraly and Steffes had to climb back from a 12-8 deficit (in those days, teams played a single game to 15 with sideout scoring) and stave off four match points to eke out a 17-15 victory. From there, they went on to win the gold, defeating the other U.S. team, Mike Dodd and Mike Whitmarsh, in the finals. It was Karch's third Olympic gold in three tries – the other two came with the U.S. indoor teams in 1984 and '88 – and it cemented his GOAT (Greatest of All Time) legacy. On the women's side, the high finish came from Linda Hanley and Barbra Fontana, who took fourth after losing the bronze medal match to Australia’s Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst.

These recaps were written by Don Patterson and Jon Hastings from DiG magazine.
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