Phil Dalhausser

Phil Dalhausser, Todd Rogers shift with evolving beach volleyball

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Horse Guards Parade, a usual site of London’s Changing of the Guard, housed a sand shift at the 2012 Olympics.

Beach volleyball debuted at the Olympics in 1996, and the first four men’s gold medals were won by U.S. or Brazilian teams, the two dominant nations in the sport. Three of four silvers, too.

Americans Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers arrived at the central London venue playing for legacy two years ago, to become the first men to repeat as Olympic beach champions. They were seeded second, behind only a Brazilian duo, and went undefeated in group play to make the single-elimination round of 16.

Dalhausser and Rogers, two men separated by six years in age, seven inches in height and countless hair follicles, had become the perfect complements since teaming in 2006. Rogers, nicknamed “The Professor” for his ability to pick apart the game mentally, especially defensively, and Dalhausser, the younger, quieter, bald man they called “The Thin Beast” for his scary-good offensive play.

Their partnership pretty much ended on the night of Aug. 3, 2012.

The men’s round of 16 was not a showcase event around the London Games that evening. Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin were swimming their final individual events over at the Aquatics Centre. It was the first night of track and field at Olympic Stadium.

But at Horse Guards Parade, Dalhausser and Rogers were unceremoniously dethroned in straight sets by a 13th-seeded Italian team that had to win an extra match just to qualify for the round of 16.

“When you lose,” Dalhausser said that evening, “it smacks you right in the face the second the ball hits the sand.”

One month later, Dalhausser said on an Internet volleyball radio show that he would switch partners and team with another two-time Olympian, Sean Rosenthal, for the following season.

Rogers, at a seasoned 39, was to cut back on playing internationally, but his forecast would have changed had the Olympics been different.

“If Phil and I had played really well and won a gold … if we were still playing at a level where we were winning a lot of tournaments, we would have kept going,” Rogers said in a phone interview last week.

It started to go wrong a little over a year before the Olympics.

Dalhausser and Rogers won 13 of the 16 FIVB tournaments from late 2009 to early 2011. Then Rogers tweaked his knee, Dalhausser rolled his ankle before the 2011 World Championships (they finished ninth), Rogers tore his meniscus and had offseason surgery and Dalhausser was hospitalized with blood clots in his shoulder and arm one month before they were to defend their Olympic gold medal.

“I wonder what would have happened if the little injuries and things not happened and if we continued to roll,” Rogers said.

Instead, a German team won Olympic gold. Men’s beach volleyball took a turn. Dalhausser and Rogers, now separated, face more challenges internationally (for Dalhausser) and domestically (for Rogers) than in their heyday.

The new pair of Dalhausser and Rosenthal are inconsistent but among the world’s best, arguably No. 1 when at their peak. Rogers is playing with his third different partner in as many seasons, the last two being younger players transitioning to the beach.

But the game is global now, with championship roots across Europe two years before it’s going to be one of the showcase sports at the Rio Olympics.

A Dutch pair won the 2013 World Championship. A Latvian duo is the team to beat right now, Dalhausser said, early on in the international FIVB season that runs from April to December. The Italians who stunned Dalhausser and Rogers at the Olympics have won two of the first three tournaments.

“Once beach volleyball became an Olympic sport in 1996, people started taking it more seriously around the world,” said Rosenthal, who made the 2008 and 2012 Olympic quarterfinals with Jake Gibb. “We always did [take it seriously] here and Brazil did there, but it became a much bigger sport around the world. A lot of these countries are taking their indoor players and taking them out to the beach. They’re all 21 [years old] and 6-9 and 6-10. They’re getting good and getting good fast.”

The 6-foot-9 Dalhausser and 6-3 Rosenthal took three FIVB World Tour event titles last year, more than any other duo. But they didn’t make the semifinals of their five other tournaments. They lost in the round of 16 at the World Championships.

“Fifteen teams could probably win a tournament on any given weekend,” Dalhausser said.

Dalhausser and Rosenthal, who have switched sides on the sand this year (Dalhausser is back on his natural left; Rosenthal on his unnatural right), were bounced in the round of 16 and quarterfinals in their first two international tournaments this season in China. In both defeats, they squandered one-set-to-none leads.

“We couldn’t step on their throats, I guess, and finish them off,” Dalhausser said. “That’s something we need to work on.”

source: Getty Images
Beijing Olympic champion Todd Rogers (pictured) won his first tournament with new partner Theo Brunner at a lower-level event in the Cayman Islands in April. (Getty Images)

Rogers, who was largely credited with developing Dalhausser into a dominant force during their partnership, took on a project in 2013.

His partner last year was Ryan Doherty, a 7-foot former minor-league baseball pitcher with a puddle of domestic tour experience. They parted amicably after a disappointing international season and mixed results on the domestic AVP Tour.

Rogers picked up another new partner this season named Theo Brunner, a man he once recruited when he was an assistant college coach to play for UC-Santa Barbara’s indoor team. Brunner, at 29, is 11 years younger than Rogers.

Rogers said after he and Dalhausser lost in London he would never play another Olympic match, but he’s not completely ruling out a Rio run now.

At the same time, his focus is on boosting his partner’s ranking among American men via a points system that accumulates results over the course of a season. Rogers wants his former college pupil to have a shot at his first Olympics in case Rogers opts not to try for his third. A country can’t send more than two teams to an Olympics.

“Basically my No. 1 goal here is to put Theo in a position by the end of this year that he has enough points that he’s now a viable option for players to choose from if we’re not doing really, really well,” said Rogers, who with Brunner isn’t automatically qualified for the marquee FIVB Grand Slam main draws yet. “In that case, he shakes my hand, and I’m going off into the sunset of some kind.”

Dalhausser and Rosenthal and Rogers and Brunner are both scheduled to compete in the first event of the new AVP season in St. Petersburg, Fla., next week.

Dalhausser, Rosenthal and Rogers all have children now. That balances their futures in a sport with high travel mileage. Still, there’s that image of playing an Olympic final in a full, 12,000-seat stadium on Copacabana Beach in Brazil — where rowdy spectators are known to yell curse words at U.S. teams, in English.

“I think Rio will probably be my last Olympics,” said Dalhausser, 34, whose wife is expecting a girl, Sophia, in August, to pair with Sebastian, who turns 1 in June. “The travel wears on you. I don’t see myself playing until 40 [like Rogers]. Try to qualify for Rio, then hopefully medal there. Then maybe play another year and probably call it quits after that.

“But if I’m still winning tournaments when I’m 37, it’d be tough for me to walk away.”

First grass planted on Rio Olympic golf course

Mark McMorris, after horrible injury, ups risk for 2 gold medals in PyeongChang

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 08: Mark McMorris of Canada waits for his score after his second run during the Snowboard Men's Slopestyle Final during day 1 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park on February 8, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Mark McMorris remembers the day in July 2011 when he found out he could one day be an Olympian.

The Saskatchewan native was at a Canadian steakhouse watching TSN. A report said slopestyle snowboarding had been added to the Olympics for the next Winter Games in Sochi in three years.

Holy s***,” McMorris, in a phone interview last week, remembered thinking to himself. “I have a really good chance at going because I won this event so many times.”

McMorris was only 17 years old then, but he had already won a World Cup slopestyle contest in January 2010, a month after turning 16. Plus, he took silver at his Aspen Winter X Games debut in January 2011.

McMorris won the X Games in 2012 and 2013, then broke a rib at the 2014 X Games, 12 days before his Olympic debut. He still made it to Sochi, but the overwhelming favorite tag was gone. McMorris took bronze behind surprise American Sage Kotsenburg.

Since then, two days greatly impacted McMorris’ snowboarding. He will never forget one of them. He doesn’t remember the other.

On June 8, 2015, the International Olympic Committee added snowboard big air for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games. McMorris, who had won big air at X Games five months earlier, instantly became a favorite for two medals in South Korea. Perhaps two gold medals.

Unlike slopestyle, McMorris doesn’t remember how he heard about big air’s Olympic inclusion. He believes his medal chances in PyeongChang are equal in both events.

“Some people might say slope, because I win more slope contests,” said McMorris, who starred in a reality TV show with big brother Craig, “McMorris & McMorris,” and has his own video game. “But I also win the big air contests when I land. Usually, I go all in rather than get second or third. I try my harder stuff.”

McMorris swept big air and slopestyle at the 2015 X Games and nearly did it again in 2016, edged by countryman Max Parrot in big air by two points. Parrot also beat McMorris in slopestyle at the Laax Open in Switzerland last week. He is clearly the biggest rival heading to PyeongChang.

McMorris plans to compete in both big air and slopestyle at Aspen this week, and could win both. This is remarkable given what happened Feb. 21, 2016.

McMorris broke his right femur in an Air and Style big air run in Los Angeles (video here). His rehab has been extensively documented by Canadian media.

McMorris returned to competition in November and quickly returned to winning. He captured a big air test event at the PyeongChang Olympic venue.

“For sure, I was nervous and stressed, but I put so much time into my rehabilitation and made sure I was super strong,” McMorris said of trying high-risk tricks again, like the frontside triple cork 1440 he attempted at Air and Style. “You can work as hard as you can to feel like you were at one point. I did that, and it ended up working out super well.”

McMorris said he falls every day in training, testing his surgically repaired right leg with a titanium rod the length of his femur.

“Not concern, but for sure I feel my leg somedays,” he said. “Big impact [fall], I’ll feel it in my groin. I’ll get some metallic feeling in the back of my knee, sort of where the femur meets the knee. I deal with my leg most days when I wake up. It just takes me a little bit longer to warm up. It still works pretty good.”

McMorris is credited as the first rider to land a backside triple cork 1440 in 2011. He’s working on more difficult tricks.

“Trying to perfect the switch backside triple cork 1620, which is kind of a new one in our industry,” he said. “I’ve never been able to do it in a slopestyle run. I’ve done it one time in a big air event at X Games last year. I’d love to do that in slopestyle, trying to link three triple corks together, which would set me up to be in a pretty good place.”

At this time four years ago, a McMorris-Shaun White rivalry was being hyped for the first Olympic slopestyle event. White had won his last X Games slopestyle start in 2009 and started training the event again for a Sochi slopestyle-halfpipe double.

McMorris dominated the 2013 Winter X Games with the two highest scores, while White was fifth. White ended up dropping out of slopestyle on the eve of the Winter Olympics, drawing criticism from Canadian riders, but notably not McMorris.

The McMorris-White relationship took a twist last February when McMorris suffered his broken femur at White’s Air and Style event. McMorris said he got hurt because of an uneven landing area, according to CBC.

In July, a video of White and McMorris skateboarding together in New York City was published on White’s social media accounts. McMorris said last week he might compete in Air and Style next month, though he didn’t want to answer White-related questions.

White said earlier this month he has dropped slopestyle altogether. It’s unknown if or when Kotsenburg will return to competition. He wasn’t invited to X Games.

McMorris can’t speak to the Americans, but he can say he’s feeling more confident going into the Olympic year than four years ago.

“Because I’ve been through the ringer once of the Olympics,” he said. “I know what’s coming. I know what I need to do, and I understand what it takes to perform under pressure. Hopefully, this time, I don’t have a broken rib. I’m pretty aware what the level’s going to be like in a year’s time. But you never know, it’s a judged sport as well.”

VIDEO: NBC’s lookahead to PyeongChang

European Figure Skating Championships broadcast schedule

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NBC Sports will air live coverage of the European Figure Skating Championships in Ostrava, Czech Republic, this week.

The competition includes reigning world champions Javier Fernandez of Spain, Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia and ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France.

NBCSN will provide live coverage that will also be streamed on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Andrea Joyce and 2011 U.S. champion Ryan Bradley will call the action on NBCSN, while 2006 Olympic ice dance silver medalist Ben Agosto will join the team for ice dance coverage.

Skaters are preparing for the world championships in Helsinki in two months.

MORE: U.S. figure skating could have its best world team since 2006

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Wednesday Noon Women’s Short NBCSN
Wednesday 2 p.m. Pairs Short (LIVE) NBCSN
Thursday Noon Short Dance NBCSN
Thursday 2 p.m. Pairs Free (LIVE) NBCSN
Friday Noon Men’s Short NBCSN
Friday 2 p.m. Women’s Free (LIVE) NBCSN
Saturday 9 a.m. Free Dance (LIVE) NBCSN
Saturday 6 p.m. Men’s Free NBCSN
Saturday, Feb. 4 3 p.m. Women’s/Men’s Free NBC