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'Thin Beast' stomachs prematch butterflies

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BEIJING – Phil Dalhausser had a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach when he woke up Wednesday morning and it took him a while to realize what it was.

"It was nerves," Dalhausser said. "For the first time in my life, I was nervous before a game."

You couldn't tell in the match. Dalhausser and partner Todd Rogers posted a resounding 21-11 21-13 semifinal victory over Georgia to easily advance to the men's beach volleyball final.

The 28-year-old Dalhausser, known as the "Thin Beast," was in devastating form at Chaoyang Park, dominating the net and producing a series of spectacular blocks. With Rogers at his clinical best as well, there was never any serious likelihood of the No. 2 seeds suffering an upset.

Perhaps it should be no surprise that an athlete experiences some butterflies before an Olympic semifinal. Yet it was still out of character for Dalhausser, one of the most relaxed and low-key athletes at the Beijing Games.

"If Phil starts playing like that when he gets nervous, then I hope it happens a whole lot more often," Rogers said. "He was awesome out there and there wasn't a lot they could do against him."

Rogers and Dalhausser are now just one victory away from adding a gold medal to the countless domestic and international titles they have racked up over the past two years.

Beating Brazil's Marcio Araujo and Fabio Luiz in Friday morning's final would be sweet redemption for U.S. men's beach volleyball after being a major disappointment four years ago. In Athens, Dax Holdren and Stein Metzger lost in the quarterfinals, and Dain Blanton and Jeff Nygaard lost every match in pool play in failing to advance.

Rogers and Dalhausser got off to a shaky start in Beijing with a shock defeat in their tournament opener to Latvian duo Martins Plavins and Aleksandrs Samoilovs. Since then, though, they have looked invincible while blasting through the knockout stages.

Wednesday's win robbed the tournament of one of its most intriguing stories, with Brazilian-born Georgian pair Renato Gomes and Jorge Terciero bowing out.

Nicknamed "Geor" and "Gia" after their adopted country, Gomes and Terciero were given Georgian passports to allow them to compete in the Olympics. Their exuberant nature helped them win over neutral fans, and they captured the imagination of a Georgian public, providing a welcome distraction from the political strife that recently threatened Georgia.

After every victory, the pair would sprint up into the stands to celebrate with a small but noisy contingent of other Georgian athletes and well-wishers. Rogers and Dalhausser made sure the party ended Wednesday, storming to an early lead and never letting up.

In Wednesday's second semifinal, Marcio and Fabio recorded an upset in beating defending Olympic champions Ricardo and Emanuel, the men Rogers claimed were the ones to beat before the tournament as the Americans tried to avoid that label. Now Rogers and Dalhausser go into Friday's final as strong favorites.

"If we could win gold, it would be the crowning achievement of our careers," Rogers said. "We have had a lot of success and a lot of wins in various tournaments, but this is the big one.

"We didn't make a great start, but we have been getting better with each game and we are feeling good."

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