U.S. beach volleyball underdogs strike gold

Posted: Tuesday, September 26, 2000

SYDNEY, Australia -- After another day dominated by drug woes, including the first gymnast stripped of a gold medal, Venus Williams and the U.S. beach volleyball team just went out and won.

The American volleyball tandem of Dain Blanton and Eric Fonoimoana, longshots at the start of the Olympics, took the gold medal Tuesday in straight sets. U.S. Open and Wimbledon champion Williams, with the help of sister Serena, guaranteed herself two Sydney medals with a straight-set win in doubles.

The news wasn't all good for the Americans: The most anticipated boxing match of the Olympics ended with Michael Bennett simply outclassed buy Cuban veteran Felix Savon, and there were more allegations about steroid use by Marion Jones' husband, C.J. Hunter.

Williams, who has won 31 straight singles matches, teamed with Serena to beat Els Callens and Dominique Van Roost of Belgium 6-4, 6-1, in the Olympic semifinals. The No. 2-seeded Venus already qualified for the gold medal match in singles Wednesday against No. 10 Elena Dementieva of Russia.

The Williamses won 11 of the final 13 games to take their doubles match. The sisters have won 32 of their past 33 matches together, and three of the past four Grand Slam tournaments where they played.

DRUG TESTS: They are totally opposite in appearance: a diminutive teen gymnast compared to Nadia Comaneci, a hulking 330-pound shot putter more like King Kong Bundy. Were the two somehow linked in Sydney? Positively.

Romanian gymnast Andreea Raducan, just 16, became the latest drug casualty of the Sydney Games, losing her all-around gymnastics gold medal Tuesday (Monday evening EDT) after testing positive for a banned stimulant contained in a cold remedy.

U.S. shot putter Hunter was back in the news over his alleged steroid use. Hunter failed four separate tests for steroids this summer, results that international and American track officials knew about but never reported, the IOC's drug chief said Tuesday.

Hunter, in a teary news conference with 100-meter gold medalist Jones, asserted his innocence Tuesday (Monday night EDT). Jones, who gave her husband a kiss of support, said she believed Hunter had done nothing wrong.

''I don't know what has happened and I don't know how it happened,'' an emotional Hunter said. ''Nobody on this planet could say that I don't love my wife and I don't love my kids.

''I have never in my life, nor would I ever, do anything to jeopardize their opinion of me,'' he added, his voice cracking.

Jones asked the media to leave the couple alone so she could concentrate on her bid for gold medals in four more events over the next four days.

Prince Alexandre de Merode, chairman of the IOC's medical commission, said Hunter failed three out-of-competition tests in addition to a test conducted after the Bislett Games in Oslo, Norway.

Raducan was permitted to keep her two other medals Tuesday after testing positive for pseudoephedrine, the International Olympic Committee said. The Romanian gymnast apparently ingested the drug in two cold medicine pills.

Both IOC and Romanian officials acknowledged it was an accident, but the ruling did not change.

Raducan, the first gymnast stripped of a medal for a drug violation, becomes the second athlete to lose a Sydney gold. She is the sixth positive drug case at these games.

She was allowed to keep her gold from the team competition and a silver from the vault.

The team doctor who gave Raducan the cold medicine was expelled from the games and suspended for the next two Olympics -- 2002 in Salt Lake and 2004 in Athens.

BEACH VOLLEYBALL: Despite overcasts skies, it was a golden day at the beach for Americans Dain Blanton and Eric Fonoimoana. The beach volleyball pair captured the gold medal with a stirring 12-11, 12-9 victory over the favored Brazilians.

The winners collapsed in the sand and hugged as the rain fell on Bondi Beach and the crowd chanted ''USA! USA!'' The bronze medal went earlier to Germany.

TRACK: A bad left hamstring forced world champion Inger Miller out of the women's 200 meters. The injury led the American to pull out of last week's 100, although Miller still hopes to run in the 400-meter relay this weekend.

Miller hurt her hamstring while training at UCLA on Sept. 7, two days before she left for Sydney. Miller was second to Marion Jones in the 100 and 200 meters at the U.S. trials and was considered Jones' chief rival in both events.

After a day dominated by drug stories, U.S. track star Michael Johnson -- sporting a pair of gold track shoes -- needed just 43.84 seconds to return all the attention to Australia's Olympic Stadium.

He became the first man ever to win the 400 in consecutive Olympics, and took a leisurely victory lap following his Olympic farewell. The 33-year-old Johnson has won four Olympic and nine world championship medals, all gold.

Teammate Alvin Harrison took the silver.

Just 15 minutes earlier, Australian Cathy Freeman captured the women's 400 -- a victory that brought the crowd of 110,000 to its feet and left the Aborigine runner in near-shock, kneeling silently on the track.

Drained and overwhelmed with the excitement of victory and the relief of expectations fulfilled, Freeman removed her shoes and took a victory lap in bare feet. Ten days earlier, she had lit the Olympic flame during the opening ceremony.

Her gold helped boost Australia's medal count to 43 -- 12 gold, 20 silver, 11 bronze -- its highest Olympic haul ever.

In the men's 10,000 run, Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia repeated as gold medalist with a late kick.

In the Olympic debut of the women's pole vault, Stacy Dragila sailed 15 feet, 1 inch to claim the first gold. She failed at three attempts to break her own world record.

BOXING: The Olympic fight with the most hype was no match at all. Cuban Felix Savon, the two-time Cuban gold medalist, easily outclassed American Michael Bennett in the 201-pound quarterfinals. The fight was stopped in the third round on the 15-point rule, 23-8.

Bennett, the defending world champion, had never faced Savon. He started boxing in an Illinois prison and had less than 50 fights in open competition.

American Jeff Lacy also failed in his shot at the Olympic semifinals, losing 18-3 in the third round to Russian Gaidarbek Gaidarbekov.

WATER POLO: Three times, the United States took the lead. And three times, Hungary answered to score a 10-9 victory in water polo. Hungary (3-0-1) advanced to the quarterfinals, while the Americans (1-3-0) need a win or a tie against in its next game Greece to make the final eight.

DIVING: American medals hopes remained high in the 3-meter springboard, with Mark Ruiz sitting in fourth place after the semifinals. Another American, Troy Dumais, also advanced to the finals; he placed seventh.

SOFTBALL: It took twice as much effort for the U.S. team to make the gold medal game, as the American women swept a day-night doubleheader against two teams that had earlier defeated them in Sydney.

To make the gold medal game against Japan, Lisa Fernandez struck out 13 in shutting out Australia 1-0. Dot Richardson's fifth-inning single scored the only run of the game as the Atlanta gold medalists took a huge stride toward defending the title.

Beating Japan would be sweet revenge, giving the Americans victories over all three teams that beat them in the preliminary round. In the first game Monday, the U.S. team beat China 3-0.

MEN'S VOLLEYBALL: The U.S. team heads home from Sydney with a perfect record -- of ineptitude. The volleyballers ended their Olympic experience with five losses in five games, the last one Monday to Italy by scores of 21-25, 25-18, 25-18, 25-18.



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