|Born:||February 14, 1970|
|Hometown:||El Toro, CA|
|Ht: / Wt:||6'0" / 145 lbs|
|Event(s):||Women's beach volleyball|
Bronze beach debut
At 38, Elaine Youngs is competing in her second Olympic beach volleyball tournament, and third Olympics overall. She was a member of the U.S. volleyball team that took seventh at the 1996 Atlanta Games before switching to the beach in 1997. Youngs and Liz Masakayan won a bronze medal at the 1999 World Championships but failed to make the U.S. Olympic team in 2000. Youngs placed fourth at the 2001 Worlds with Barbra Fontana and fifth at the 2003 Worlds with Holly McPeak. Youngs and McPeak qualified as the No. 2 U.S. women's team for the 2004 Athens Games, where they won a bronze medal. They lost to fellow Americans Misty May and Kerri Walsh in the semifinals before defeating Australia's Natalie Cook and Nicole Sanderson for bronze.
Plenty of partners
Youngs will take 29-year-old Nicole Branagh with her to Beijing. The duo first teamed up late in the 2006 season, and in their first event of the 2007 season they knocked off the top-seeded May-Treanor and Walsh in the semifinals before winning the AVP season opener. Branagh is the latest in a long line of successful partnerships for Youngs. Before Branagh it was Rachel Wacholder for 2005 and most of 2006, McPeak from 2002 to 2004, and Barbra Fontana in 2001. Youngs' first partner in professional beach volleyball was Masakayan, with whom she played from 1997-2000, although most of Youngs' 1998 season was spent with Nancy Reno.
Trying to beat the best
Branagh and Youngs won a total of three AVP tournament titles in 2007, again defeating May-Treanor and Walsh in the Boston Open final. That match on Aug. 19, 2007, was the last time May-Treanor and Walsh lost prior to Beijing -- a streak that includes 101 matches and 18 tournaments. Youngs and Branagh placed second in seven AVP tourneys in 2007, losing to May-Treanor and Walsh in the final each time. And 2008 started the same way, with Branagh/Youngs falling to May-Treanor/Walsh in the final of the first two AVP events, and in the semifinals of the third. Youngs and Branagh's only AVP title this year came in their fourth AVP tournament of the season -- in Charleston, S.C., which May-Treanor and Walsh didn't play -- before losing to May-Treanor and Walsh in the next two events they played. Internationally in 2008, Youngs and Branagh played eight events, winning their first FIVB title together at the Barcelona Open in May. They also earned a silver and two bronzes, and made the quarterfinals of all but one event.
Branagh the best?
It's too early to tell if Branagh is Youngs' most successful partnership, but it's tough to argue with the early returns. Branagh, a former Big Ten co-player of the year at Minnesota, was the 2005 AVP rookie of the year, the 2006 AVP most improved player, and teamed with Youngs for 13 top-three AVP finishes in 2007, the most in any season for Youngs. "I have had so many great partners," Youngs says. "Some of the best players on tour; Holly McPeak, Nancy Reno, Liz Masakayan. Those 3 are legends in our sport, so I was lucky to play with them - had a lot of success. ...But I think athletically, (Nicole's) the best. She's a very talented jumper, very mobile, very strong. She hits the hardest ball on tour; the best server I've ever played with, so it's coming together. I think winning a gold medal would definitely put her on top!"
In a family with four brothers, Youngs grew up playing pick-up games of football. "She never learned how to play like a girl," says her mother, Carolyn. Known for her court intensity and willingness to verbally berate opponents, Youngs credits her competitive edge to playing with her brothers: Ricky, Roy, Roger, and Ryan. "For me to play well, it's got to be that way," she says. Youngs took up volleyball at age 15 when she joined the team at El Toro High School in California. There, Youngs was a standout volleyball and basketball player.
Youngs earned All-American volleyball honors four consecutive seasons at UCLA and led the Bruins to the NCAA title as a senior in 1992. Youngs also played on the women's basketball team in 1989, but her 1990 season was cut short when she needed surgery to repair cartilage damage in her left knee.
Youngs, who lives in Durango, Colo., during the winter, enjoys "everything outdoors," including snowboarding, snowshoeing, hiking, camping and cross-country skiing. When training for volleyball, her winter regimen consists of arm swing work, core strengthening and yoga.
Quite a mouthful
The only girl in her family, Youngs says her mother went overboard when naming her only daughter, whose full name is Elaine Clara Marie Hermenia Youngs. Elaine was the name of a cousin who was killed in a car accident, Clara was her maternal grandmother, Marie was an aunt and Hermenia was her great-grandmother.
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