|BERLIN, GERMANY, June 24, 2004 - The only time Dain Blanton and Eric Fonoimoana won an international Beach Volleyball event together was at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games when American pair "surprised" the world with their gold medal finish.
Since then, the two players have won events together along with different partners after their success on that late September afternoon on Bondi Beach against the heavily-favoured Ze Marco de Melo and Ricardo Santos of Brazil.
The two players ended their playing relationship near the end of the 2001 season and began the Olympic qualifying process for the 2004 Athens Games with new partners. Blanton teamed with Jeff Nygaard at the start of the 2003 season. Fonoimoana began playing with Dax Holdren before joining forces last August with Kevin Wong.
Both Blanton and Fonoimoana won their matches here Thursday with their current partners during the opening round of the US$600,000 Smart Grand Slam. Blanton and Nygaard out-lasted Mariano Baracetti and Martin Conde of Argentina 19-21, 21-19 and 16-14. Fonomoiana and Wong scored a 21-13, 19-21 and 15-11 win over Nikolas Berger and Clemens Doppler of Austria.
Blanton and Nygaard, a two-time indoor Olympian for the United States, captured a gold medal in their first SWATCH-FIVB World Tour event together. The win launched their efforts in becoming the United States' No. 1-ranked team on the Olympic qualifying list with 2,296 points for their best eight international finishes together since January 2003.
For Fonoimoana, the start of the 2003 season was difficult as Holdren was hampered by a knee injury and the pair never finished above ninth on the SWATCH-FIVB World Tour in 11 events together, except for a fifth here last year. Following the 2003 Austrian event, Fonoimoana and Kevin Wong joined forces leaving Holdren to play with Stein Metzger.
Metzger had just placed second with Wong in Austrian when he learned from his girl friend that his partner was going to play with Fonoimoana at a domestic stop in Southern California. Fonoimoana and Won captured the Manhattan Beach Open as Holdren and Metzger placed ninth.
After posting two ninths and a 13th on the domestic tour, Metzger and Holdren found a "groove" and placed fifth and second in two-straight FIVB events. The second could not have come at a better time for Holdren and Metzger as the pair won the silver medal at the 2003 FIVB World Championships last October in Rio de Janeiro.
Combined with a fourth-place finish two weeks ago in Puerto Rico, Holdren and Metzger (1,800) have overtaken Todd Rogers and Sean Scott (1,624) for the second spot on the USA Olympic list behind Blanton and Nygaard.
After the domestic win in Manhattan Beach, Fonoimoana and Wong have 17th, 9th, 33rd, 17th, 5th, 9th and 13th in their seven FIVB events together. With this week's Smart Grand Slam being their eighth SWATCH-FIVB World Tour event together, the pair has now tallied 1,118 points to rank fourth on the American Olympic qualifying list.