London • Three kinds of volleyball, three gold medals?
It’s possible, with high-ranking athletes from Utah in the men’s, women’s and beach versions of volleyball at the London Olympics, which all begin on the opening weekend of competition. Logan Tom, Rich Lambourne, Russell Holmes and Jake Gibb — never mind coach Hugh McCutcheon — all conceivably could come home with the top prize.
“We are absolutely going for gold,” Gibb said. “That’s what we’re here for.”
Gibb, a Bountiful native, and partner Sean Rosenthal, might be the flat-out favorites on the beach now, having beaten both defending gold medalists and fellow Americans Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser in recent weeks, along with reigning world champions Emanuel Rego and Alison Cerutti of Brazil.
Dalhausser and Rogers have made it sound almost as if they’re on a sight-seeing tour here, not focused so much on repeating as gold medalists.
“I look at this as a very fun opportunity to add the cherry on top and the whipped cream and sprinkles,” Rogers said. “There are not as many distractions in Beijing because there are only a few things you want to do. Here in London, there are quite a few thing to do, because it’s such a historical city.”
Gibb and Rosenthal open their competition against Freedom Chiya and Grant Goldschmidt of South Africa on Saturday night, just hours after Tom — a Salt Lake City native and Highland High School graduate — begins her pursuit of a gold medal with the U.S. women’s indoor team, now coached by McCutcheon, the former Brigham Young University player and coach.
The women are the top-ranked team in the world, and hoping to upend reigning Olympic champions Brazil, who beat them in the gold-medal match at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“We are at a standard where, if we are good, it can be good enough to win,” McCutcheon said. “We want to win. Why come here to come fifth?”
The women open against Korea, but must emerge from a preliminary group that also includes Brazil — their first highly anticipated meeting comes Monday — third-ranked China, Serbia and Turkey. The top four in the group advance to the knockout rounds.
On the men’s side, former Cougars Lambourne and Holmes are seeking to defend the gold medal they won in Beijing under McCutcheon, before the coach switched teams seeking greater professional opportunities.
New coach Alan Knipe left off the roster Alpine’s Ryan Millar, a three-time Olympian and former BYU star player and coach, but still has a team capable of taking gold. The Americans open pool play against Serbia on Sunday, and are ranked fifth in the world.
“This squad is stronger than the victory team at Beijing,” veteran outside hitter William Priddy said. “Four years ago, we were a very stable group but we had to grind out some of the victories. This time, we have more firepower from the attacking players and the service line. We have more peaks and valleys this time, but the peaks are much higher.”