U.S. advances to medal round despite loss

Originally Published: August 19, 2004
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Brazilian beach volleyball star Emanuel had an extra reason to be upset when his nation's heralded men's soccer team failed to qualify for the Olympics.

Now, most of Brazil has pinned its gold-medal hopes on him and partner Ricardo.

"They put all their confidence on us," Emanuel said. "I can feel everybody cheering us."

So far, the world's top-ranked duo has handled the extra pressure well. They routed Americans Dax Holdren and Stein Metzger 21-17, 21-10 on Thursday to finish a perfect run through pool play.

Despite the loss, the 12th-seeded Americans still advanced to the medal round. They are the last hope for the United States to win a third straight beach gold medal. The country's No. 1 pair, Dain Blanton and Jeff Nygaard, was eliminated after three losses in pool play.

Metzger was optimistic, even after Thursday's loss.

"We're playing the best ball of the year," he said. "A lot of the small stuff, we've really tightened up. We're ready to roll. We just ran into a freight train tonight."

The 16-team single-elimination medal round begins Friday. The times of the games have not been determined.

Top-ranked Americans Misty May and Kerri Walsh open against China's Tian Jia and Wang Fei. Fourth-ranked Holly McPeak and Elaine Youngs face Eva Celbova and Sona Novakova, who lost 21-17, 21-17 to May and Walsh in pool play Thursday night. The Americans could meet in Monday's semifinals.

Australians Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst, the 2000 gold medalists who are now playing with different partners, will face each other in their opening match.

On the men's side, Holdren and Metzger will play Germans Markus Dieckmann and Jonas Reckermann, the world's fourth-ranked team.

As the medal round begins, no player has higher expectations to fulfill than Emanuel, the winningest player in the history of the international FIVB tour.

Twice, Emanuel has entered the Olympics as a medal contender. Twice, he finished ninth -- in 1996 and 2000.

"In my first Olympics, I was too young. In the second, I was not so confident," he said.

He says he's finally found the right partner in the 6-foot-7 Ricardo, who won the silver medal in Sydney. Ricardo is behind only his partner on the FIVB's all-time wins list.

"Ricardo is very strong at the net and he can make me feel more comfortable. I can be more aggressive," said the 6-3 Emanuel.

Their pool-play finale with the Americans was a rematch of the gold-medal game in last year's FIVB World Championship in Rio de Janeiro. The Brazilians won that match 21-18, 21-15.

The Americans weren't as competitive this time. Emanuel and Ricardo never trailed and finished the match with a 16-5 spurt.

Holdren and Metzger realized before the match that they had already qualified for the medal round and Metzger admitted losing some intensity.

"Tonight was our giveaway night," Metzger said. "If we're going to play like this on any night, this is the one."

Later Thursday, May and Walsh got their toughest test of the tournament, but stayed unbeaten against the Czechs.

"It doesn't have to be pretty," Walsh said. "But to beat a great team like that, playing less than stellar volleyball, that makes me very happy."

The Americans and second-seeded Brazilians Shelda and Adriana are the only duos -- men's or women's -- who have not dropped a set.

The Brazilian women, the 2000 silver medalists, capped their run through pool play on Thursday with a 21-14, 21-19 win over Cubans Fernandez Grasset and Larrea Peraza.

Adriana said the Brazilians need to play better in the medal round.

"If we make four or five mistakes in a row like we did in that match, that's terrible. We can improve," she said.

The duo is sharing an apartment at the Olympic village with fellow Brazilians Sandra and Ana Paula, the No. 3 seeds. Sandra and Ana Paula were looking as dominant as Shelda and Adriana until a 21-18, 15-21, 11-15 loss on Thursday to ninth-seeded Germans Susanne Lahme and Danja Musch.

The Brazilian women are not getting as much pressure to win as the men are.

"I don't want to be in their shoes," Ana Paula said. "Everybody is saying in Brazil, 'One gold medal is for sure.' We try to explain to them that at the Olympics, anything can happen. Fans say, 'No, no, no. It's right here in our hand.' They truly believe Emanuel and Ricardo are going to win this medal."

Later Thursday, second-ranked Brazilians Marcio and Benjamin lost to Germany's Christoph Dieckmann and Andreas Scheuerpflug 22-20, 21-17.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press