U.S. beach volleyball starts strong

LONDON -- When Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser made their Olympic debut in Beijing, they lost their first match to a Latvian team that was seeded 23rd in the 24-team field.

They were determined to avoid that predicament in London.

The defending beach volleyball gold medalists opened the 2012 tournament with a straight-set win over Japan on Sunday night, their seventh consecutive Olympic victory. The win kept the United States a perfect 4-0 in pool play, something the Americans couldn't manage on their way to a sweep of the men's and women's gold medals in 2008.

"It was fun to watch the other American teams win, and then we won," Rogers said after the 21-15, 21-16 victory over Kentaro Asahi and Katsuhiro Shiratori. "I'm glad we could make it an undefeated first round for the U.S.A."

Americans April Ross and Jennifer Kessy also won their match Sunday night, beating Ana Gallay and Virginia Zonta of Argentina 21-11, 21-18. Two-time women's gold medalists Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor won Saturday, as did No. 2 U.S. men's team Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal.

Rogers and Dalhausser lost their Olympic debut in 2008 and won the next six matches -- including the championship game against Brazil. Rogers said the problem in Beijing was part nerves and part exhaustion from marching in the opening ceremony the night before their first match.

Dalhausser's legs were especially tired, neutralizing the jumping that makes him such an intimidating blocker at the net. This time, they had a full day off between the lengthy parade of nations and their first match on Sunday.

"We came out a lot more loose, a lot more relaxed," Dalhausser said.

But the nerves were still there -- just a little.

"Before the match I was texting my wife and said, 'I haven't felt nervous in a long time,' " said Rogers, 38, who plans to retire from international competition after the 2012 Games.

If anyone had nerves, it was Kessy and Ross -- the only first-time Olympians on the U.S. roster. To help remain calm, they talked to the other Americans about how to prepare for the biggest tournament they will play in.

The answer: Treat it just like any other event.

"We kept asking people. We tried to learn from past mistakes," she said. "They said, 'Do the same things you always do.' "

Of course, Ross said, it's not like any other event.

"You're out there thinking, 'I want to do this for my country. I want to do this for my friends and family,' " she said.

Although it was their Olympic debut, Kessy and Ross had a bit of familiarity with the setting: They attended the test match at Horse Guards Parade last summer in a temporary (and smaller version) of the Olympic venue, finishing second. When they came last August, they managed to cover most of the tourist sights so they could focus on the competition this time.

"There's still a couple of things on the list," Ross said. "But right now I have blinders on."