LONDON — Americans Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor are unlikely to face a first-time pair from Mauritius in their quest for a third straight beach volleyball gold medal.
After all, Elodie Li Yuk Lo and partner Natacha Rigobert might not even get out of pool play.
Talk about a contrast in an Olympic beach volleyball tournament that now features a handful of new faces alongside the world’s biggest stars.
By the time the reigning Olympic champs hit the sand to face the Czech team of Kristyna Kolocova and Marketa Slukova tonight at picturesque Horse Guards Parade, the team from Mauritius could be in bed.
The Olympic newcomers play the opening match this morning; the star U.S. tandem play the last one at night — their second consecutive 11 p.m. (local time) court date.
“I was worried,” Walsh Jennings said after winning her opener against Australia. “At home, it hits 11 and I’m a zombie. But we could play at 4 in the morning, we don’t care.”
Li Yuk Lo and Rigobert get their next chance in pool play against Lenka Hajeckova and Hana Klapalova of the Czech Republic after losing their Olympic opener Saturday to the Brazilian team of Juliana Silva and Larissa Franca, 21-5, 21-10.
Two years ago, Li Yuk Lo quit her job teaching high school biology and physical education, left her family in Toronto and moved to France to train for the Olympics. In February, Rigobert also walked away from teaching and began the countdown to London.
These two are making history for Mauritius — as the first Olympic beach volleyball players from the tiny East African island nation.
They are enjoying the moment, high-fiving at every opportunity during practice and between points.
Word from supporters back home is that they’re gaining popularity in the media and in ads now that the Olympics have begun. Rigobert’s husband, professor of sports psychology Thierry Long, is coaching them during this special run.
Mariusz Prudel and Grzegorz Fijalek of Poland also are making their country’s debut in a sport long dominated by just a few countries, like Australia, Brazil and the United States. The Polish team also will play for the second time during today’s schedule.
While beach volleyball is a huge hit and one of the most popular and sexy Olympic competitions, it is still relatively new on the program since becoming a medal sport at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Still, the Olympic rookies realize they play a part in educating those back home and elsewhere.
“It’s amazing. We’re just so happy to be here as the first team ever in our history from Mauritius,” Rigobert said. “It’s even more fantastic that it’s beach volleyball because our island is surrounded by beautiful beaches. We hope this will bring the sport up in our country and in Africa.”
On the men’s side, Prudel and his partner dropped their first match to Latvia 12-21, 21-15, 15-12, and will play again today against the No. 2 U.S. pair of Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal.
During the final practice day, Prudel — with a goatee, long sideburns and his sandy blond hair pulled into in a ponytail — patiently waited to receive his name-brand shades — with choice of color and lenses.