Lausanne, Switzerland, June 4, 2020 - Twenty years ago today, one of the most remarkable runs to win a gold medal was completed by Americans Dax Holdren and Todd Rogers on a Mexican beach on the Pacific side of the Baja Peninsula.
On this day in 2000 in the Mexican resort town of Rosarito (37 miles, 60 km) south of San Diego, Holdren and Rogers topped the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour podium as the lowest-seeded main draw team to win a men’s or women’s international beach volleyball competition.
Todd Rogers (red uniform bowing) and American partner Dax Holdren receiving their gold medals at the 2000 Mexico Open in Rosarito.
Since 1996, Holdren and Rogers are the only 32nd-seeded team in the main draw ever to win a men’s or women’s FIVB World Tour gold medal as the Americans became the third team ever in the 1990s to win a title after starting the competition in a qualifier.
The Brazilian pairs of Ze Marco de Melo/Ricardo Santos (1998 Rio second seeds in qualifier) and Marcio Araujo/Benjamin Insfran (2000 Guaruja 16th-seeded in qualifier) accomplished the feat initially. Since Holdren/Rogers’ gold medal success, 28 men’s teams have accomplished the feat of winning a title after qualifying for a FIVB World Tour main draw.
Competing in their third-ever FIVB World Tour event together, Holdren and Rogers had to win five qualifying matches as the 34th-seeded pair in the preliminary rounds where eight duos advanced to the main draw in the 2000 Olympic qualifying event at Rosarito.
Dax Holdren (center) of the United States
“Dax and I had won two domestic events,” said the 46-year old Rogers from his home in Ynez, California, when asked if his team thought about winning gold in Rosarito. “Thinking we could win an international event and going through the qualifier to boot just doesn't happen so I would have to say no.”
Highlighting the qualifying wins was a 15-7 side-out scoring victory over Austrians Nikki Berger and Oliver Stamm, who competed together in the 2000 Olympic Games where the pair almost upset eventual Sydney silver medal winners Ze Marco de Melo and Ricardo Santos of Brazil in the first elimination round (16-14).
“I always thought we were seeded 67th with 0 points,” said Rogers as this team entered the competition with only four points. “I remember in the qualifier Nikki was the No. 2 seed and he was annoyed they had to play us. He knew me from playing against me in college (Berger at Hawai’i and Rogers at UC-Santa Barbara) and knew Dax and I would be a tough draw.”
After defeating the Austrians, Holdren and Rogers posted wins over American rivals seventh-seeded Bill Boullianne/Ian Clark (15-7) and eighth-seeded Brent Doble/Karch-Kiraly (15-5) to advance from the qualifier. Adam Johnson, Kiraly’s regular partner, missed the event due to injuries.
In the Rosarito main draw, Holdren and Rogers posted a 15-13 win over top-seeded Ze Marco and Ricardo.
Ze Marco de Melo (left) and Ricardo Santos of Brazil with their Sydney 2000 Olympic silver medals
“I remember they were asleep in the first round of the tourney,” said Rogers, who is now coach beach volleyball at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. “I knew they were really good, and we had nothing to lose. They took us lightly pretty much shooting every ball (even Ricardo) and I recall jumping out to a lead. Fortunately, we scooped enough balls and had enough aces to get to 15 points before they woke up!”
After upsetting the Brazilians, Holdren and Rogers defeated four more Olympic team that competed in the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Summer Games starting with a 15-8 win over 17th-seeded Francisco Alvarez and Juan Rosell of Cuba.
Francisco Alvarez of Cuba
“I remember thinking how ridiculously athletic Alvarez and Rosell were and trying to be as nice as possible to them so they wouldn't get excited and start playing to their potential,” said Rogers of the Cubans, who placed seventh at the Atlanta Olympics and 17th in the Athens Summer Games. “Alvarez wanted to dig the driven ball, not run down shots, so we shot 95% of the balls.”
Holdren and Rogers advanced to the final four with a 15-13 win over 25th-seeded Jody Holden/Conrad Leinemann of Canada and 15-10 over 21st-seeded Mikhail Kouchnerev/Serguei Ermichin of Russia. Both the Canadians and Russians placed ninth at the Sydney Olympics.
“We played Holden and Leinemann at the 1997 FIVB World Championships in Los Angeles,” Rogers added, “and beat them so we came in confident against them. Ended up being a sideout battle and we fortunately prevailed.”
Rogers said the Russian pair was “an interesting team. 'Kouch' was super athletic but a little out of control and Ermichin (nicknamed "The Creature”) was enormous at the net for that day and age. I remember we served well and got them in trouble that way.”
In the semifinals, Holdren and Rogers posted a 15-13 win in 71 minutes over the third-seeded Swiss Laciga brothers (Martin and Paul), who won the silver medal at the 1999 FIVB World Championships in France and placed fifth at both the Sydney and Athens Olympics.
Paul (left) and Martin Laciga of Switzerland
“We were pretty tired and just went after our serves really tough,” said Rogers of meeting with the Swiss. “They did the same thing and in the end we served two points better than they did. Probably a lot of missed serves in that game though.”
In the Rosarito finale that featured two American pairs, Holdren and Rogers posted a 15-12 victory in 55 minutes over seventh-seeded Rob Heidger and Kevin Wong, who placed fifth at the Sydney Olympics after being eliminated by compatriots Dain Blanton and Eric Fonoimoana in the Bondi Beach quarterfinals.
Rob Heidger (left) and Kevin Wong of the United States
“It was our 11th match in Rosarito and our legs were giving out,” Rogers noted. “Our game plan was to shoot every ball unless they dropped since it was two guys that were both really good blockers but not particularly good defenders in terms of running down shots.
Rogers said he remembered “getting stuffed on the one ball I hit in transition when Rob stayed up. Only ball I hit all game. We had the advantage in serving and went for it big time to create our points. Not necessarily aces but drop, dig and transition for points. Helped they were from the United States, so we knew them and had beaten them before, albeit not as a team.”
As for his FIVB gold medal wins and not counting the world (2007) and Olympic (2008) titles, Rogers said the win in Mexico was memorable “since we had to go through the qualifier and country quota. Defeating the top seed was really pretty special. Reality is we were going down to have fun and enjoy ourselves and hopefully make a few bucks too. Ended up doing all of the above and then some!”
Rogers added that there was a “secret to our success! The hotel we were at was only partially finished but had a bar on the first floor right next to the lobby. It was an open air bar with a nice breeze blowing through it every evening. Dax and I got down there the day before the event for the qualifying meeting. After the meeting we went into the bar and an old bartender was the only person there. We ordered a margarita on the rocks. TO THIS DAY HE MADE THE BEST MARGARITA ON THE ROCKS I HAVE EVER HAD! So, after every day of playing, Dax and I went into the bar. Every day it was the same old bartender and every time we ordered a margarita on the rocks!”
The Holdren-Rogers’ 13-event FIVB partnership ended after the 2001 season as the pair finished fifth together in their last international appearance at the 2001 World Championships in Klagenfurt where the Americans lost in the quarterfinals to eventual gold medal winners Martin Conde and Mariano Baracetti of Argentina in three sets.
Holdren, who has recently returned to his hometown of Santa Barbara, and Stein Metzger placed fifth in the Athens 2004 Olympics Games after being eliminated by eventual bronze medal winners Patrick Heuscher/Stefan Kobel of Switzerland in a three-set quarterfinal match. The Americans solidified their spot in the Summer Games by placing second in the 2003 FIVB World Championships where Emanuel Rego and Ricardo won the gold medal match.