August 10, 2008 / 3:27 AM / in 10 years

Favorites survive the rain

BEIJING (Reuters) - Heavy rain that made the Olympic beach volleyball court feel more like a pool failed to stop the so-called ABC countries of the sport, the United States, Brazil and China, from advancing in their group matches on Sunday.

Despite the weather, Chinese fans turned up in their thousands wrapped in yellow plastic ponchos to cheer on their first Olympic men’s beach volleyball team and their number two women’s pair, screaming in the stands as the wins notched up.

By the last matches of the evening though, the 12,200-seat stadium was virtually empty apart from volunteers piling up sand banks to drain the water out, a far cry from the sport’s usual image of players bouncing around on sun-soaked beaches.

“This is beach volleyball. You have to play the elements. Sometimes it’s howling wind, sometimes it’s rain,” said American Jake Gibb, who comfortably beat the Netherlands 2-0 with his partner Sean Rosenthal.

Kerry Walsh (L) and Misty May-Treanor of the U.S. celebrate winning their preliminary beach volleyball match against Japan at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, August 10, 2008. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

“We didn’t really care. We were just so excited to be here and the people who stayed in the crowd were super loud.”

Earlier, fellow Americans Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh started their Olympic title defense in style, sweeping past Japan in just 36 minutes and extending their Olympic track record of not dropping a set since they started together in Athens in 2004.

Slideshow (8 Images)

Brazilians Marcio Araujo and Fabio Luiz were on cracking form against Italians Riccardo Lione and Eugenio Amore who got together only a month ago after Lione’s partner was injured.

In the women’s draw, Talita Antunes and Renata Ribeiro took some time to settle down against Greece but eventually slid past 2-1 to make it a clean sweep for Brazil in the first matches.

Play resumes on Monday when U.S. men’s favorites Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers will try to recover from a shock first game defeat -- the only one for the ABC countries so far.

Editing by Ralph Gowling

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