Poland shine in Olympic volleyball opener
Round-up: Poland lived up to their billing as men's Olympic volleyball title contenders with a thrilling opening win over triple world champions Italy on Sunday, backed by a deafening crowd of red and white clad fans at Earls Court.
The Poles defeated Olympic champions the United States three weeks ago to take the World League title and the thirst for a first Olympic gold since 1976 resulted in an atmosphere louder and more intimidating than when hosts Britain made their bow at the Games earlier in the day.
Italy, with every serve met by ferocious boos, did their best to silence the opposition fans by taking the first set in the Group A clash but their resistance did not last as Poland, ranked third in the world, swept home 21-25 25-20 25-23 25-14.
While Italy player Emanuele Birarelli admitted the noise played a part in the defeat, Poland coach Andrea Anastasi called for calm among his team's supporters.
"In Poland we have become celebrities, we cannot go around freely any more, but it is a little bit too much, we haven't won anything important yet," Italian Anastasi told reporters.
Argentina's men's volleyball team defeated Australia in straight sets in an opening pool stage contest with interesting family implications.
When father and son took their places at opposite ends of the volleyball court on Sunday, it was clear the Uriarte family would have something of a mixed start to the London Olympics.
In the end, bragging rights went to 22-year-old Nicolas Uriarte, who briefly helped Argentina as a substitute to a straight sets Pool A opening victory over a battling Australia coached by his father and 1988 bronze medallist, Jon.
Jon, who sat courtside cross-legged and calm, gave only the odd shrug of the shoulders as his native countrymen's attack and fierce defence at the net proved too much for a spirited Australia roared on by a green and gold contingent.
The 25-21, 25-22, 25-20 result was not a shock. Argentina, also coached by Jon between stints with Australia in 2001-2004 and since May last year, ranked 14 places higher in the world than their 22nd placed counterparts, who face hosts Britain on Tuesday.
The brief introduction of his son in the second set caused a quick glance across the court. Jon later told reporters that it had been hard to keep his feelings under wraps.
"I don't know if it was a contradiction, you know, but I was cheering for him as well," joked Uriarte senior, standing beside his son, having embraced on court afterwards.
"When we knew about the draw and that we would be together at the Olympics I have been so happy," added Jon, whose three children all play volleyball.
"As a father, seeing them be happy, expressing themselves as well, you know, it's huge. I don't know what life could give me next, it is already enough."
Australian player Aden Tutton said afterwards Jon had been pumped up to beat his home country, but Uriarte's family, sat in the stands at London's Earls Court took a more equal approach.
"An Argentina flag and a Australia flag, a bit of both," Nicolas said, pointing to either cheek on his face.
When number 20 David Smith came on for the United States volleyball team in Sunday's straight sets win over Serbia, the "David Smith Rule" took effect for the Olympic champions.
Smith, 27, has 80-90 percent hearing loss, described by doctors as severe to profound, and he plays with aids in both ears. When he goes for the ball, other team mates leave it.
That's the David Smith Rule.
"My university coach and the assistant coach here formed that David Smith rule so that I wouldn't be running in to everybody," Smith, who uses lip reading to understand his team mates, told reporters, smiling.
"At this level, we have such great athletes that we can figure it out. We do get it wrong, but that's on the practice court rather than out here in front of everybody!"
Smith is at his first Olympics and comes to London with the United States aiming for a final victory that would make them the first men's team to win four Olympic gold medals and successfully defend their title twice.
It was a comfortable start at Earls Court on Sunday, easing past 2011 European champions Serbia 25-17, 25-22, 25-21.
At six foot, eight inches, Smith has a jump and physicality well suited to a game increasingly made up of giants at international level. Sweat, though, is one of his main enemies.
"If I am wearing my hearing aids in a match and I am sweating a lot my hearing aids can shut down, it's pretty much silent out there for me," says Smith, who has worn hearing aids since he was three years old.
"I can hear vibration from the crowd and maybe read lips, but with balls flying around and six people on the court, you're not going to be able to look in everybody's faces and read what they're saying to you."
Growing up, Smith, who now plays volleyball professionally in France, went to a public school after his parents realised hearing aids would enable him to interact with children. His parents would also go through class video tapes with him to repeat the day's lessons.
"Obviously there were and still are times when I wish I wasn't like this... But it's not been that much of a setback because I've been successful. I was able to go to regular university and I have a degree in civil engineering," he says.
"The world has come so far with medical problems that we are adapting and incorporating, so anyone who wants to play, let them play."
Brazil's long-standing coach Bernardo Rezende and son Bruno were in a happy mood after the twice Olympic and triple world champions coasted to a straight-sets victory over Tunisia.
The South Americans next face world number two and 2000 silver medallists Russia who floored Germany in straight sets with key man, spiker Maxim Mikhaylov, in fine form.