Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Before big match, Rogers talks indepth about career, family


At first it seemed like Todd Rogers’ Olympic dreams were all coming crashing down around him.
He had struggled for so long since first hitting East Beach 17 years ago. There was that dream of a Gold Medal that had prompted him to first leave behind Dax Holdren, his hometown boyhood partner – whom he watched reach the Olympics in 2004 with another player – and then switch from Sean Scott, with whom he had won the final three tournaments of 2005, for the untested 6 foot 6 inch Floridian Phil Dalhausser.

The move was prophetic, as the Professor (Rogers’ nickname for his careful study of the game) and the Thin Beast quickly dominated the American AVP tour. But after setting the record for consecutive victories at home and scoring three international wins in a row to secure the top spot in Beijing, they lost their final match at home before the Games began and then were beaten, humiliated, in straight sets by the 23rd seeded Latvians in the opening round.
But they weren’t giving up. Not by a long shot. The team regrouped, and persevered, winning the gold medal in a 3rd game blowout against a team from Brazil.
Flying home two days after claiming the gold, Rogers got right back to his regular workout routine, then flew to Cincinnati last weekend where the No. 1 seeds kept up their winning ways. Then it was back home for two more days of workouts and fatherhood, before Rogers caught a redeye to Chicago yesterday to tape an episode of Oprah with the other American Olympians that will run on Monday.
We caught up by telephone from the O’Hare airport as Rogers waited to fly home in time for this weekend’s AVP Santa Barbara Shootout tournament at West Beach, where the 34-year-old Santa Barbara native who now lives in Santa Ynez will try to defend the title he won here two years ago with Dalhausser.
Q. Were you worried when you lost the first match in Beijing?
A. No, I still felt our chances were good. We played really poorly, and it wasn’t reflective of our abilities. So it wasn’t the end of the world, but we had our work cut out. As it turned out it was the best thing that could have happened, because it sparked us to play much better and because we came out second in our pool, the road to the finals had no Brazilians or the other American team. We didn’t have to face a really tough match until the last one.
Q. When did you know for sure in that last game that you were going to win the Gold Medal?
A. I pretty much was locked in at 9-1. It wasn’t at 6-1 because we had come back from that ourselves. But Phil just took over. He got in one of his rhythms. And the other guy was in a funk, and that gave us those five or six points in a row.
Q. And then you tackled each other in the sand. What did you feel at that moment of victory?
A. To be honest, part of it was just utter jubilation, and part was relief. We trained and worked so hard for three years just for that one moment. To have it come to a culmination and have it pay off, it was mind numbing in that instant. Then Phil went nuts and tackled me, did his Terry Tate thing. In that moment your mind goes blank. Just want to find someone to celebrate with. I jumped up and ran over to give (my wife) Melissa a big kiss, while Phil took the flag and ran around the court.
Q. Why did you come back home early rather than stay for the closing ceremonies?
A. One, my kids started school on Monday and it’s always good to be there. I went and dropped them off, just got back into the routine of being a dad. And Phil and I wanted to get home as soon as possible to acclimate ourselves to the USA again for the next tournament.
Q. What was it like to land at the Santa Barbara airport and see all your fans there?
A. That’s really when it kind of hit me about what this meant to people back home. Melissa and I were talking about it on the flight, wondering what if no one is there. It ended up being a lot more people than we expected. It was very cool, with all the flags and everything. Then driving back in to Solvang, there were all these signs set up. My house was ballooned, and there were signs and flowers and gifts, and cards congratulating me. Seeing all those people it really hit home. And there’s something else, though, I’m not even sure I like it. At school, my kids’ friends are now looking at me with mouths wide open, even though I’ve been involved in classroom with Hannah for the last four years. But now they see me as a different guy, and they’re all shy and in awe of me. It was a real eye-opening moment. It’s very strange.
Q. Have you had a chance to show off the gold medal?
A. Yeah, Phil and I brought them down to East Beach that first Tuesday back, and showed it to the guys. I just leave it in my car. If people ask, I bring it out. On Thursday, I’m bringing it to Hannah’s class so they can see it and I’ll let them all put it on.
Q. It’s pretty amazing to think you win the Gold Medal and just days later you’re slogging through the sand at East Beach doing your weight training again. You didn’t really get any time to just enjoy it.
A. For me, there were still five more weeks of the season. That’s my job, and there’s money to be made to support my family. We wanted to give ourselves the best shot of winning every tournament left.
Q. But wasn’t it hard to just get back out there again with no major goal in sight?
A. Yeah, it was, and every time it’s going to be harder still. But there’s the light at the end of the tunnel in just a couple more weeks. Then I get to sit back at home and taste lots of good wine, and make jerky and cookies and do whatever the heck I want with the kids. I’m going to take about a month off and just enjoy life. In November, we’ll start up the cycle again.
Q. No big let down after Beijing? I mean, you’ve already won the gold medal, a world championship, and tournaments here in Santa Barbara and the big Manhattan open, plus a King of the Beach title and the MVP award. What’s left?
A. Well, you would have thought that would happen in Cincinnati, but we were relaxed and had a good time, and were just enjoying playing for the love of the game again, with no specific thing to work toward. And we won anyway. Once you get on the court, you have those competitive juices flowing and it’s hard to rein those in.
Q. Will we see you in London in 2012?
A. It’s too early to even think about that. I know I’ll play next year, Phil and I will stay together, and after that we’ll take year by year. I don’t want to look much beyond that at this point in time. But at some point in time either my body will catch up or the desire won’t be there, and when that happens, I’ll know it’s time to call it quits.
Q. Have you achieved everything you set out to do now, or will this win open up some new doors?
A. Winning the gold medal is at the top of the career goal, no doubt about that whatsoever. And it’s in the top five life goals. But it falls far behind the birth of my children and marrying Melissa. As far as what doors will open, I can probably tell you better in about a month. It takes a little time, and we’re not sure which ones were gonna walk through.

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