Nygaard: 'We just deserve to lose'
ATHENS, Greece -- American beach volleyball pair Dain Blanton and Jeff Nygaard have until Wednesday to figure out why they've played two lethargic matches at the Olympics.
It's probably too late to think about winning a medal.
Flat and out of synch for the second time in pool play, Blanton and Nygaard lost to Canadians John Child and Mark Heese 21-16, 21-10 on Monday.
The eighth-seeded Americans must upset the fifth-seeded Swiss pair of Patrick Heuscher and Stefan Kobel on Wednesday to have any chance of reaching the single-elimination medal round of 16.
"We just deserve to lose," said the 6-foot-8 Nygaard, a two-time Olympian with the indoor team.
The Americans fell behind against Child and Heese just like they did in Saturday's loss to Australians Julien Prosser and Mark Williams. While Nygaard was routinely blocked and beaten at the net by the smaller Canadians, Blanton again struggled with his serve, committing three faults.
"I would say those are absolutely the worst matches we've played," said Blanton, a 2000 gold medalist with Eric Fonoimoana.
Blanton and Fonoimoana didn't win again after Sydney and split in 2001. Blanton eventually paired with Nygaard, who acrimoniously left the indoor team in 2000 after eight seasons.
Blanton and Nygaard won their first international tournament together in 2003 -- in Greece -- and immediately got the inside track in the 18-month Olympic qualifying process. They won three times last year, were named the team of the year on the domestic AVP tour and virtually had their berth to Athens locked up before 2004 began.
But this year has been dismal, with no wins on either the international or AVP tour. Neither has been able to pinpoint the problem.
"For what reasons, you can speculate all day," Blanton said.
Blanton hinted Monday that the pressure of the games may be getting to Nygaard, who helped UCLA win two national championships in the 1990s.
"The Olympics is a big tournament and some people don't know how to handle it," Blanton said.
Counting his matches with the indoor team in Atlanta and Sydney, Nygaard is now 2-10 in his last three Olympics, although he hardly played in Sydney because of a bout with mononucleosis.
"I'm trying my best to win and it's not happening," he said. "I wish I had the answer."
Later Monday, Americans Holly McPeak and Elaine Youngs overcame a sluggish second set to beat Canadians Guylaine Dumont and Annie Martin 21-13, 12-21, 15-9.
The fourth-seeded U.S. team looked sharp at the start, then fell behind 9-2 in the second set after a flurry of unforced errors.
"We wavered a little bit, they put a little pressure on us and we couldn't return the favor," said Youngs.
The Canadians, seeded 16th, said they tensed up before the final set.
"When you're too intense, you're not fluid and your play just goes," Dumont said.
The Americans resumed their solid play midway through the set and finished the match with a 7-2 spurt.
"We were smart in the third game and did some good things," McPeak said.
In other evening action, the largest, loudest crowd yet turned out at the 10,000-seat venue to watch two Greek teams lose.
Amid explosive cheers and chants of "Hellas!" (the Greek word for Greece), Portugal's Joao Brenha and Luis Maia beat Pavlos Beligratis and Thanos Michalopoulos 21-14, 21-19. Australia's Summer Lochowicz and Kerri Pottharst won a tense match with Vasiliki Karadassiou and Efi Sfyri 21-15, 15-21, 16-14.
"They're a very passionate crowd -- a lot of booing, a lot of whistling and hissing," said Pottharst, the 2000 gold medalist with Natalie Cook.
In the morning, Cook and Nicole Sanderson, the No. 5 seeds, blew four match points before rallying to beat China's Lu Wang and Whenhui You 21-19, 17-21, 17-15.
The Aussies led 14-10 in the decisive set before the Chinese pair reeled off five straight points. Cook, a 2000 gold medalist in Sydney with Pottharst, then finished the match with two kills and an ace.
"I don't like them that close, because your heart beats too fast," Cook said. "But we need that challenge now, so come the time when you're playing those tougher teams, you'll know what it's like."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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