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Wednesday, August 25, 2004
15th seeded Spain grabs silver

Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Emanuel Rego cradled his gold medal in his hand, looking at it as if peering into the eyes of a child.

The eight-year quest for the Brazilian star, one of the world's most accomplished beach volleyball players, was finally over. All the questions answered, all the pressure from fans in his sports-crazy homeland released.

Rego and Ricardo Santos, the world's top-ranked team, overpowered Spain's Javier Bosma and Pablo Herrera 21-16, 21-15 on Wednesday night, capturing a gold medal for the nation that has dominated the sport internationally for more than a decade.

"This medal is a symbol of an eight-year battle," Rego said. "I have been waiting for this moment for so long."

So has Brazil.

The nation's men failed to win a medal in 1996 and earned a disappointing silver in Sydney when third-seeded Santos and Ze Marco de Melo lost to ninth-seeded Americans Dain Blanton and Eric Fonoimoana.

Rego had never even come that close. He has the most wins on the international FIVB tour -- 47 victories and more than $1.3 million in earnings -- but had flopped twice at the Olympics, finishing ninth twice as the No. 2 seed with different partners.

Not this time.

The Brazilians jumped to a 5-2 lead and never trailed, with Santos hammering spikes and Rego drilling well-placed jump serves from the start.

"We played with our hearts and when we play like this, it's unbelievable," Rego said.

Bosma and other partners upset Brazilian pairs in 1996 and 2000. He and Fabio Diez upset Rego and Jose Loiola in Sydney.

It was apparent early that Bosma wouldn't be up to it again.

The Brazilians led 19-16 in the first set when Santos tapped a serve that clipped the top of the net cord and trickled over. Santos turned to the crowd, both arms in the air, already confident of the match's outcome. He ended the set with a crushing spike that hit a mound of sand and bounced straight up in the air.

The Brazilians looked even more powerful in the second set, opening a 9-3 lead. While Santos continued to nail spikes almost straight into the ground, Rego tracked down every Spanish shot.

"They played the best game anyone played in this Olympics," Bosma said.

The 15th-seeded Spaniards got as close as 12-6, but only because the Brazilians missed two serves. At the end, Bosma and Herrera were caked with sand and drenched with sweat, another obvious indication of how lopsided the match had been.

"We couldn't control the game, we couldn't fight, we couldn't get points," Bosma said. "It was just impossible to stay very close."

Santos finished the match with a soft tap down the line and Rego jumped into his partner's arms. The Spaniards slapped hands and thanked the raucous capacity crowd, most of them yellow-clad Brazilians.

Rego and Santos, partners since 2003, had won 11 of their last 19 tournaments before Athens, including their last two. Still, as the Olympics approached, the uneasy expectations mounted.

Rego decided to make them his ally.

"Everybody was putting pressure on us because we were the favorites, we were at the top of the rankings," he said. "By now, I can use this pressure in my favor. The pressure is on the other teams. They need to beat us. That's how we saw it."

Earlier, Swiss pair Patrick Heuscher and Stefan Kobel won the bronze by beating Australians Julien Prosser and Mark Williams 19-21, 21-17, 15-13.

Heuscher and Kobel were a set down and four points from losing, but rallied to win the first beach medal for Switzerland.

Prosser and Williams matched the fourth-place finish by fellow Australians Natalie Cook and Nicole Sanderson on Monday.