The US’ Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser, gold medalists in the men’s beach volleyball in Beijing in 2008, were knocked out of the London Olympics by a low-ranked Italian pair on Friday in the biggest upset of the tournament so far.
Rogers, 38, and Dalhausser, 32, were considered strong medal contenders and had won all three of their pool matches, dropping just one set along the way.
In contrast, Italians Daniele Lupo, 21, and Paolo Nicolai, 23, had lost two out of their three pool matches, finishing third of their group. They scraped into the round-of-16 by winning a lucky loser match late on Thursday.
However, the inspired Italians played the match of their lives on Friday, landing one unstoppable spike after another and relentlessly blocking the Americans’ usually powerful attacks.
Rogers and Dalhausser were defeated by two sets to nil on the score of 21-17, 21-19.
The Italians had beaten Rogers and Dalhausser twice this year, but their relatively poor performance during the pool phase, compared with three comfortable wins by the Americans, meant that Friday’s result came as a big surprise to most.
The Italians seemed almost dazed by their own performance.
“We’ve won against them before, but every time it’s a battle. They’ve been idols for me and it’s strange to beat them,” Nicolai said.
The Americans did not seem as surprised as everyone else.
“They’re a very, very good team. They’re younger. The tall guy is like Phil, the little guy is like me, just 10 or 20 years younger, so,” Rogers said with a chuckle.
Tall and small, as defined by beach volleyball players, are relative concepts.
Nicolai is 2.03m tall while Lupo measures 1.95m. Lupo is presumably the “little guy” referred to by Rogers, a diminutive 1.87m next to Dalhausser, who towers over his teammate at 2.06m.
The other high-profile men’s pair in action on Friday, Brazilians Ricardo Santos and Pedro Cunha, faced a tough challenge from Spaniards Pablo Herrera and Adrian Gavira, but were able to stave them off 2-0 (21-18, 21-19).
Ricardo won silver in Sydney in 2000 with Ze Marco de Melo, then gold in Athens in 2004 and bronze in Beijing with Emanuel Rego, who is also competing at the London Games with his own new teammate, Alison Cerutti.
Earlier, the US’ women’s pair Jennifer Kessy and April Ross, former world champions, had a two-sets-to-nil win over Swiss pair Simone Kuhn and Nadine Zumkehr.
Kessy and Ross have spent much of their career in the shadow of compatriots Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, the only pair to have won Olympic gold in beach volleyball twice.
May-Treanor and Walsh are again in the limelight in London as they bid for a third consecutive gold, but Kessy and Ross have been looking strong and may well pose a serious challenge to their US rivals at a later stage.
May-Treanor and Walsh would play their first match of the knock-out phase against a Dutch team last night.
However, the favorites in the women’s event are reigning world champions Larissa Franca and Juliana Felisberta of Brazil, who thumped their way into the quarter-finals on Friday by beating Dutch pair Madelein Meppelink and Sophie van Gestel.
Larissa and Juliana have dominated the women’s world tour for several years, but they missed out on the Beijing Olympics in 2008 after Juliana had to pull out with a knee injury. Olympic gold is the only trophy they are missing and they want it badly.