Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser are a frustratingly even-keeled team. Their disposition just minutes prior to losing their first match of the Olympics was not much different than their mannerisms minutes before capping a thrilling comeback win in the first round of elimination play.
So when the 6-foot-9 Dalhausser blocked 6-8 Fabio Magalhaes of Brazil for the third consecutive play to give his team an insurmountable 9-1 lead in the third set of the gold medal match on Friday, seeing the head-shaven American screaming and pumping his fist as the teams switched sides was a momentous occasion.
"You don't play many third sets for the Olympic gold medal," Dalhausser said. "If there was one time to get fired up, that was the time right there."
He and Rogers surely needed it. After pulling out a 23-21 win in game one with Fabio and Marcio Araujo before dropping the second set 21-17, the goal of their three-year partnership was riding on this last game. In 2006, after 11 years in professional beach volleyball, Rogers needed someone to help him get to the next level. He asked for Dalhausser's hand in partnership because Rogers believed he had the potential to become the best player in the world.
That vision came to fruition Friday, when Dalhausser was named the men's MVP of the Olympics. Of his nine blocks in the championship match, five came in the deciding third game, which the U.S. won 15-4.
"I just got in the zone," Dalhausser said. "You know, some athletes say you just get in a zone and you don't think. You just do it and you do all the right things. It's pretty amazing."
And with the gold medal, the United States becomes the first country in Olympic beach volleyball history to sweep gold at the same Games. Rogers and Dalhausser's title in their Olympic debut comes one day after Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh won an unprecedented second consecutive Olympic gold. Brazil still leads the all-time Olympic beach volleyball medal count (Brazil 9, U.S. 7), but the U.S. now owns five of the eight Olympic golds ever handed out.
May-Treanor and Walsh rolled over all competitors. For the second straight Olympics, they did not lose a single set. And in Beijing, they extended their all-time best winning streak to 108 matches. That they handled the media spotlight and pressure of trying to do what no team in history had ever done before is truly a remarkable feat.
But Rogers and Dalhausser's gold medal was a tougher one to obtain. Whereas the gap between May-Treanor and Walsh is almost as large as the country of China, the field on the men's side is much deeper. To wit: Your new Olympic champions lost their opening preliminary match to the No. 23-seeded Latvians, and were down 6-0 in the third set to the No. 20-seeded Swiss team before rallying to stay alive.
Could the men ever see a team as commanding as May-Treanor and Walsh?
"No, I don't think so," Dalhausser said. "On the men's international tour there's 32 good teams that are pretty awesome. Very rarely do you get an easy match. So it's pretty tough to dominate."
Rogers and Dalhausser are as close to May-Treanor/Walsh-like dominance as it gets. In July 2007, they became the first U.S. men's team to win a world title, and they've won four of the seven international tournaments they've played in 2008, earning medals in the other three. Should they stick around another four years -- Rogers is 34, Dalhausser 28 -- they could do what no other men's team has done: win back-to-back Olympic gold medals.
Though not common among men, their role models are their female compatriots, deservedly so.
"Kerri and Misty in general inspire us," Rogers said. "We've talked about it a lot and said, 'Hey, let's just try and do what Misty and Kerri do.' They're just so much better than everyone else. Everyone else is catching up a little bit, but when they turn it on, no one comes close to them. On the men's side, it's not that way. I recognize that we're not going to be 108-0; we're going to lose a few tournaments. ...So just to be within shouting distance of them, I look at that as, 'Wow, that's an accomplishment.' They push us."