Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, who weren’t partners this time last year, mathematically qualified for the Rio Olympics this week.
Dalhausser, a 2008 Olympic champion with Todd Rogers, and Lucena, who has never competed in an Olympics, played their 12th international tournament together, meeting the FIVB minimum to be eligible for the Games.
Dalhausser and Lucena, both 36, and the pair of two-time Olympian Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson are assured of being the top two U.S. men’s teams in Olympic qualifying standings come the June 13 qualifying deadline.
Dalhausser and Lucena and Gibb and Patterson are expected to be officially named to the U.S. Olympic team shortly after that deadline. A nation can qualify no more than two pairs per gender to the Olympics.
This time last year, Dalhausser was playing with fellow two-time Olympian Sean Rosenthal. They paired up after neither earned medals with different partners at the London Olympics.
Dalhausser and Rosenthal were the world’s most successful pair in 2013 and 2014, winning six FIVB World Tour events. But their partnership changed after Dalhausser suffered an oblique injury last May 28.
They played one more tournament together, losing in the round of 16, and announced their breakup on July 27.
“I think if he doesn’t have that oblique injury, we’re out playing, and we’re back to where we’ve been the last two years, as the No. 1 team in the world,” Rosenthal said in July, according to Redbull.com. “When we weren’t injured, we were the best team in the world. We’ve had to deal with some injuries, and I don’t think either of us have had to do that our whole career, so that put a little more pressure on us: ‘Why aren’t they winning all the time? Why aren’t they the best team in the world?’ When we’re healthy, we were.”
Dalhausser turned to Lucena, with whom he began his career in 2003 before joining Rogers full-time in 2006.
Dalhausser and Lucena finished first or second in eight of their first nine FIVB tournaments since reuniting.
They were eliminated from this week’s event in Moscow by Italians Daniele Lupo and Paolo Nicolai, the same pair that upset Dalhausser and Rogers in the London Olympic round of 16.
Dalhausser and Lucena and Gibb and Patterson are Olympic medal contenders, along with Brazilian World champions Alison and Bruno and other pairs from Brazil, Latvia and the Netherlands.
On the women’s side, three-time Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and 2012 silver medalist April Ross are assured of finishing as the top American pair in Olympic qualifying. Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat will likely clinch the second spot in two weeks.