By Estelle Shirbon
LONDON, Aug 3 (Reuters) – Americans Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser, gold medallists 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 and Dalhausser were considered strong medal contenders and had emerged undefeated from the preliminary phase, winning all three of their pool matches.
In contrast, Italians Daniele Lupo and Paolo Nicolai 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.
But the inspired Italians played the match of their life on Friday, landing one unstoppable spike after another and relentlessly blocking the helpless Americans’ usually powerful attacks.
Rogers and Dalhausser were defeated by two sets to nil on the score of 21-17, 21-19.
Earlier, their compatriots Jennifer Kessy and April Ross, former women’s 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, who are the only pair of either gender 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 U.S. rivals at a later stage.
May-Treanor and Walsh play their first match of the knock-out phase on Saturday.
But 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 a young Dutch pair who won over the crowd with their defensive diving.
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.
The Brazilians pounded their way through the first set against Madelein Meppelink and Sophie van Gestel, winning it 21-10, but the Dutchwomen put up more of a fight in the second set and the teams were level at 15-15.
It was at that moment that the four women delivered one of the best points seen in the tournament so far, earning a deafening ovation from the 15,000 spectators at Horse Guards Parade, the spectacular venue not far from Big Ben.
With the Brazilians on the attack, the Dutch sprinted across the sand and flung themselves on the ground to successfully save three powerful spikes, regaining the offensive only for the Brazilians to pull off an improbable save and win the point.
“SANDSTORM!” said the screens in the corners of the court.
The Dutch were left splayed on the sand in exhaustion and the Brazilians fell into each other’s arms for a bear hug. The crowd cheered and stamped their feet, punch drunk from pop music, exuberant commentary and sunshine.
The Brazilians sealed the set and the match by 21-17. They were impressed with the crowd’s response, giving London what in their eyes is the highest compliment.
“I think this part (Horse Guards Parade) is not from London, it’s from Brazil. This part it’s a little Brazil in London,” said Juliana.
The gracious Dutch seemed pleased to have put on a good show.
“We tried, we tried, I crossed the whole court, we were just running, and it was a shame that we didn’t make the point. But we made the crowd happy with a nice rally,” said Meppelink in a classic example of understatement.