I’m sitting at the top of stadium court in Huntington Beach, watching Canada vs. Germany in the bronze medal match. I don’t know the Germans, and I’m only vaguely familiar with the Canadians, Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes.
In the small sample size I have with them, I can tell you that they seem lovely. Pavan gave an excellent interview after beating April Ross and Alix Klineman on Friday afternoon. Humana-Paredes was fun to be around on the shuttle ride from the hotel to the facility, all smiles and laughs.
As wonderful as they are, and as much as I enjoyed being around them, and even if they are de facto Americans, our neighbors up north who train in Hermosa Beach, they didn’t don the red, white and blue. Neither did the Germans, who do not train in Hermosa.
Neither did either team in the match before them, a men’s semifinal between Brazil and Spain. Nor the match before that, with the Dutch and Latvia. Nor the one before that…or the one before that.
An entire Sunday, the final day of a phenomenal event, catered to and rigged for the Americans and American viewers, devoid of Americans.
Nineteen American teams made the 48-team draw for the men. Twenty-two made it for the women.
None made it to Sunday.
(For full transparency’s sake, I was knocked out by Norway, so yeah, I’m a guilty party here).
A few came close. Sara Hughes and Summer Ross fell to Germany in the quarterfinals and Theo Brunner and John Hyden were outmuscled by the Dutch in the same round.
The final day featured eight teams from six different countries. The United States was not one of them.
I don’t think it’s time to sound the alarm and freak out and label the U.S. an afterthought in the world of beach volleyball. We’re not. Because if you think that Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena are not the best team in the world, you’re wrong.
Even Aleksandrs Samoilovs, after beating them on Friday, said as much.
“Such a great feeling,” he said. “They are the best in the world.”
And even his partner, Janis Smedins, credited their win to the blustery conditions, admitting that when it’s calm, as it was in Fort Lauderdale, when Dalhausser and Lucena pasted everyone in straight sets en route to gold, then it takes no minor act of divinity to beat them.
But it wasn’t calm, and while Dalhausser’s and Lucena’s sets – high, straight up and down – were blown around by the wind, the Latvians kept it small and shooty, safe from the breeze.
“The windier it is, the better we get,” Smedins said.
It seems overly humble. A more accurate statement may have been this: The older the FIVB gets, the better the world gets as a whole. In 1996, the first Olympic Games in which beach volleyball was a sport, it was almost a foregone conclusion that two American teams would be in the finals, and there were, with Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes beating Mike Whitmarsh and Mike Dodd.
At last year’s World Championships, the quarterfinals of the men featured eight teams from eight countries.
In an interview a year ago, Kiraly explained it wonderfully. Smaller countries might not be able to get 12-14 world-class players to form an Olympic-caliber indoor team.
But anybody can find two.
Which is why the Netherlands, a country with just 150,000 volleyball players, fields one of the top teams in the world. Same goes Latvia and Poland and Austria and any other flag you saw in Huntington this week.
The game is growing and developing, if not financially then at least in talent. Nearly every guest we’ve had on SANDCAST has said the same, whether it be Jose Loiola, a Hall of Famer, or Dalhausser or John Mayer or Ryan Doherty or Brouwer or Meeuwsen.
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This is the best the world tour has ever been.
Until next year, of course, when the young Russians, Oleg Stoyanovskiy and Igor Velichko, are one year the wiser, and these phenomenal young Norwegians, Anders Mol and Christian Sorum, have another year under their belts.
It’s a bummer that no Americans were in the semifinals or finals on Sunday. It would have been nice to see the packed stadium roaring, with flags waving and country pride spilling onto the PCH.
It wasn’t to be, and I’m not so sure that’s an indictment of American beach volleyball as it is just a simple fact of the sport: the world has caught up.
The world is stacked.
Stacked enough to win a tournament that was stacked against them.
So for now, because I love Chaim Schalk, and we’ve had Sam Pedlow and Sam Schachter on the podcast, and Pavan and Humana-Paredes were super nice, I’ll write something I wasn’t sure I’d ever write, ever.