Keeping Score

By Cindy Luis

Monday, September 13, 1999

Wong may find
Olympic gold
on beach

THE running joke on the international pro volleyball tour is this: If you speak three languages, you're tri-lingual; two languages, bilingual; and one language means you're an American.

"Sad but true," said Kevin Wong, who has spent several months playing volleyball in Europe. "But, fortunately for me, English is becoming the world's language."

Wong's volleyball certainly needs no translation. Yesterday, the Punahou product celebrated his 27th birthday with his first pro beach doubles victory, teaming with Rod Heidger to beat Spain's Javier Bosma and Fabio Diez, 15-10, in the volleyball portion of the U.S. Olympic Cup in San Diego.

"It's a nice little birthday present to myself," he said. "And it's nice to be able to play international competition without having to travel."

IT was just a two-hour drive from his Venice, Calif., home to Crown Point on San Diego's Mission Bay. The commute was worth it - Wong and Heidger, who played at UC Santa Barbara, will split $20,000.

The pair are one of the biggest beach tandems, both standing about 6-foot-7. Their downfall has been defense, something that came together yesterday.

"We usually block a lot of balls and make do in the back,'' said Wong. "We'd be very scary if we could dig well.

"Bosma and Diez are good competition and always play a tough game. I feel that this win here today is a huge step for us in going to the Olympics."

Being in Sydney a year from now is the goal. The Olympics has always been a dream of Wong's, who made the switch from indoor to outdoor volleyball after graduating from UCLA with a degree in economics.

"For one thing, it's a softer and kinder surface than the hard floor," said Wong. "You see a lot of guys start having injuries as they get older. it shows in how long the careers are on the beach.

"Right now, we have a good chance at qualifying for the Olympics. They take the top two from the U.S. and we have a slight lead over the other two U.S. teams. What we just have to do is keep the other two teams behind us. That's half the battle of getting to Sydney."

THE biggest competition are the veteran teams of Karch Karaly-Adam Johnson and Eric Fonoimoana-Dane Blanton. Wong and Heidger, ranked sixth on the FIVB tour but No. 1 among U.S. teams, have only been playing together since June.

"Kevin and I are great friends on and off the court," said Heidger. "Right now, we are exhibiting the team chemistry that we have.

"We had talked about playing together for a long time before actually getting together. Up until now, the timing was never quite right. Luckily now, the timing is right."

Wong said he dabbled with beach ball every summer when training with the U.S. national team. And, when UCLA coach Al Scates wasn't looking, he would sneak down to nearby State Beach.

"When beach volleyball was made an Olympic sport in 1996, I knew that's what I wanted to do," he said. "Beach volleyball is so hot in Europe. Domestically, it's having a hard time but I think the AVP has turned the corner.

"My big dream is to bring home a tournament to Hawaii. There are so many good players in Hawaii, there should be a mini tour. It's the perfect sport for Hawaii. When I get my act together, I think it will happen."

Wong seems to get what he wishes for. Yesterday, it was a beach championship.

Next year? Maybe Olympic gold.

Happy birthday, Kevin. And many happy returns.

Cindy Luis is a Star-Bulletin sportswriter.
Her column appears weekly.

E-mail to Sports Editor

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