By Joe Ackerman, NBC Olympics
LONDON - When you're the best in a sport, people are always looking for the next you. Who's the next Michael Jordan? Who's the next Michael Phelps? Who's the next Usain Bolt?
For much of the past five years, Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser have been the best men in the world of beach volleyball. Naturally, people then wanted to know who would fill their spot once they leave.
We may have found out Friday night at Horse Guards Parade in London.
The defending Olympic champions failed in defending their gold medal, as Rogers and Dalhausser were swept by the young Italian pair of Daniele Lupo and Paolo Nicolai (21-17, 21-19). That's a duo many expect to become one of the best in the game.
"A lot of people say they're the next Phil and Todd," Rogers said after the match. "Well, they just out-Phil-and-Todded us."
Rogers says Lupo, 21, boasts phenomenal ball control, and Nicolai, 23, can jump out of the gym and hammer the ball. If you didn't know better, you'd think he was describing him and Dalhausser.
But neither U.S. player exhibited great ball control Friday, as numerous Dalhausser sets were too close to the net for Rogers to effectively spike. Nicolai ended the night with five blocks, compared to just one for Dalhausser.
Yet, the Americans weren't surprised. This marked the fourth matchup for these teams this season, and the Italians have now won three times (they were slated to meet one other time, but Lupo/Nicolai forfeited for an unknown reason). They're a streaky team and Friday was one of their good nights. Just three days before, they were swept by the lowest seed in the tournament, Austria's Clemens Doppler and Alexander Horst.
"I wish they would've played like that against Austria (in pool play) so we wouldn't have had to play them first round," Dalhausser said, adding, "These guys, they just match up well against us."
If they don't win a medal in London, Rogers expects them to stand on an Olympic podium one day.
"I told both of them if they don't win a gold medal in the Olympics, I'll be surprised. Not necessarily here but (someday)," Rogers said, adding, "I'd be shocked if they don't become one of three or four dominant teams over the next 10 years."
That time period won't include many more clashes with Rogers and Dalhausser, whose time together is nearing its end. Rogers, 38, isn't retiring this season, but he says London is his last Olympics. He may not even play next season, saying he'll figure that out after the current one ends.
In other words, there will definitely be a void for "Greatest In The Game."