Finding Stars on Alamitos Beach
Long Beach, Calif., July 22, 2014 - When a father was entering the Alamitos Beach venue with his daughter for this week FIVB World Tour here Tuesday, the young girl asked if they would see any “stars” at the event where the world’s best Beach Volleyball players are gathering this week for the US$1-million ASICS World Series of Beach Volleyball.
The father told his daughter he wasn’t sure, but told her to “enjoy the day, the weather and the sport. It will be fun and let us find out about the stars.”
While the play on the Alamitos Beach sand determined the final eight team for each gender’s “money” rounds starting Wednesday on four courts adjacent to the Marina Green in this southern California port city, the father and daughter soon learned that the venue was full of Beach Volleyball legends.
There was Misty May-Treanor, the three-time Olympic and three-time world champion, watching the qualifier with her six-week old daughter Malia Barbara while chatting with Rachel Wacholder Scott. May-Treanor and Scott were tied together in Beach Volleyball lore as both won gold medals with Kerri Walsh during the 2004 FIVB World Tour season. When May-Treanor was sidelined with a stomach pull, Wacholder filled in and earned gold medals with Walsh in France and Klagenfurt.
When asked about “coming back” as a competitor in the future, May-Treanor smiled and politely said “no.”
In one corner of the spacious Alamitos Beach venue away from the qualifying action, there was United States Olympians Holly McPeak and Barbra Fontana working with six young women’s players seeking to match the accomplishments of two of Americans top female players.
McPeak played in the Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 Olympics and earned a bronze medal with Elaine Youngs at the Greek Games after placing fifth in her first two summer events with Nancy Reno and Misty May-Treanor. Fontana finished fourth with Linda Hanley in Atlanta where the Americans dropped the bronze medal match to Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst of Australia.
Pottharst was on site Tuesday watching the competition with Sydney 2000 Aussie Olympian Sarah Straton. After placing third in Atlanta, Pottharst and Cook stunned the Beach Volleyball work by topping the podium in Sydney by defeating Brazilian world champions Adriana Behar and Shelda Bede in the Bondi Beach finale.
Pottharst, who concluded her Beach Volleyball career shortly after the Athens 2004 Olympics where she placed ninth with Summer Lochowicz as the Aussies were the last team to qualify for the Greek Games, had just arrived at Alamitos Beach after coaching her country’s under-17 at the world championships in Acapulco.
“It is great working with the younger players,” said Pottharst. “We did not place very high in Mexico (17th), but our players got experience traveling to an international event along with competing against other countries. When I started played on the beach, we did not have the youth competition. It is great now because the younger players have an opportunity to experience this feeling that was not available in the past.”
Shelda, who also collected the silver medal at the Athens 2004 Games with Adriana Behar after losing the finale to May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, was at Alamitos Beach with Franco Neto and Rogério “Pará” Ferreira. Shelda now coordinates the Brazilian women’s effort for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games while Adriana works for the Brazilian Olympic committee.
Franco, an Atlanta 1996 participant and currently the leader of the Brazilian Beach Volleyball effort for the Rio 2016 Summer Games, captured 16 gold medals on the FIVB World Tour where he teamed with Roberto Lopes in the mid-1990s to form the South American country’s top men’s team.
Para won 10 FIVB-sanctioned tournaments in his career and now works closely with Franco by overseeing the Brazilian men’s effort for Rio. Highlighting Para’s career was capturing the 1997 FIVB World Championships at the UCLA Tennis Center with Guilherme Marques where the Brazilians defeated Canyon Ceman and Mike Whitmarsh 2-1 (5-12, 12-8 and 12-10) in the 90-minute side-out scoring finale.
When asked he if was going to return to the site (UCLA) of his “greatest” Beach Volleyball victory in his career, Para said “I would love to go back to that stadium for a moment to reflect and remember, but no. It is more important to help our teams prepare for Rio. That is No. 1 on our agenda for now.”
Para said the 1997 world championships will always be “special. It was the first world championships sanctioned officially by the FIVB. It was an amazing week for Guilherme and me. We won the semi-final match in a two-plus hour match against compatriots Paulao (Moreira) and Paulo Emilio (Silva) and then beat the Americans in the finals. It was a great weekend for our country as the women also won two medals.”
Other Beach Volleyball legends seen on the Alamitos Beach sand courts watching, following and/or coaching Tuesday were John Child, Matteo Varnier and Christoph Dieckmann. While Child and Varnier are working with teams from their home country Canada and Italy, respectively, Dieckmann is multi-nation tasking.
A two-time German Olympian and five-time gold medalist on the FIVB World Tour, Dieckmann was tending to his new daughter while his wife (Maria Tsiartsiani) was playing in the women’s qualifier with long-time Greek partner Vasiliki Arvaniti. Moments later, Dieckmann was watching a Swiss team he was coaching on the Alamitos Beach court.
Throughout the day, the presence of Sinjin Smith was felt throughout the Alamitos Beach venue. An Atlanta 1996 Olympian for the United States, Smith is a member of the FIVB Beach Volleyball Commission and was instrumental working with the international federation in getting the sport recognized as an Olympic sport.
When asked what Smith’s duties were this week, FIVB technical supervisor Ed Drakich (an Atlanta 1996 Olympian for Canada) said “anything he wants to do. Sinjin’s presence at any event is impactful. He has meant a lot to the sport and his efforts are always appreciated.”
So when the father left the Alamitos Beach venue, he told the daughter “it is not every day that you can come to an event and mingle with the legends of the sport. I am amazed how easy it is to walk up to one of these legendary figures and ask for an autograph and talk about Beach Volleyball. It is a dream come true for me and my daughter. We’ll be back!”