LONDON (Reuters) - Latvians Martins Plavins and Janis Smedins won bronze in the men’s beach volleyball on Thursday by beating Dutchmen Richard Schuil and Reinder Nummerdor, a surprise result for the tiny Baltic state emerging as an unlikely force in the sport.
The match was tight but in the end youth won out over experience as the Latvians overcame the experienced Dutch pair 19-21 21-19 15-11.
Both teams were at the top of their game and the 15,000 spectators at Horse Guards Parade in the heart of London were entertained with one gripping rally after another.
Plavins had already staked his claim to fame when he and former team mate, Aleksandrs Samoilovs, beat United States pair Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser in the pool phase at the Beijing Games in 2008.
The then world champion Americans recovered and went on to win gold as expected but the Latvian victory, which sparked a surge in the sport’s popularity there, remains one of the biggest upsets in beach volleyball.
Latvia had two men’s pairs competing at the London Games and they collectively achieved far better results than the two pairs from the U.S., which has dominated the sport since its Olympic debut in Atlanta in 1996.
It was a crushing defeat for the veteran Dutchmen, who had hoped to win a place on the podium 16 years after Schuil had his first taste of Olympic glory.
Schuil, 39, was part of the Dutch men’s indoor volleyball team that won gold in Atlanta in 1996. A five-time Olympian, he switched from indoor to beach volleyball after his first three Games.
Nummerdor also played indoor volleyball with the Dutch national team in two Olympics, Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004, before teaming up on the sand with Schuil. The pair came fifth in Beijing in 2008.