LOCALS IN LONDON
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LONDON — The U.S. men's volleyball team learned there's no relaxing against the Russians.
The United States took a two-set lead against Russia in preliminary round play on Saturday, but ultimately lost 3-2. It snapped an 11-match winning streak for the United States in Olympic play, dating back to the team's undefeated march to the gold medal in Beijing.
A win would have clinched the fifth-ranked U.S. men the top seed in their pool. They'll have another chance on Monday against winless Tunisia.
Maxim Mikhaylov scored 27 points and Sergey Tetyukhin added 21 points for No. 2 Russia in the 27-19, 19-25, 26-24, 25-16, 15-8 victory. Tetyukhin spiked for match point.
"Something you can never do against Russia is relax," U.S. wing spiker Sean Rooney said. "When they're firing on all cylinders they're tough to beat."
Matt Anderson scored 18 points for the U.S. men, who had won three straight matches to open the London Games.
The team was coming off a four-set victory over top-ranked Brazil, a preliminary round rematch of the Beijing final. But they couldn't counter Russia's powerful serves and blocks.
Middle blocker David Lee was unconcerned. It's the preliminary round, after all.
"I think that its good that this happened in pool play," Lee said. "We'll regroup against Tunisia and clinch our pool and go on from there."
The U.S. men weren't considered among the favorites to medal in London but claimed the silver in the World League tournament before opening the Olympics with dominant straight-set victories over Serbia and Germany. Then came the upset over Brazil.
The U.S. landed in a difficult pool in London with Brazil, Russia, Serbia, Germany and Tunisia. The other six-team pool includes Italy, Poland, Argentina, Bulgaria, Australia and host Britain.
A points system decides which top four teams from each group will advance to play in the quarterfinals.
Russia lost in straight sets to Brazil earlier in the round but beat Germany and Tunisia. They'll face Serbia on Monday.
Russia found success on the block to go up 15-11 in the first set. Mikhaylov's spike made it 16-11, but the United States rallied to go ahead 21-20 on Lee's monster kill before Anderson's ace won it.
The United States took an 8-5 lead in the next set, and setter Donald Suxho pumped his fist several times. Alexander Volkov's block made it 12-all, but Russia couldn't pull ahead and Reid Priddy's block sealed the set.
Sergey Grankin's block gave Russia a 16-15 advantage in the third set. The United States took back the lead and were one point away from the win, but Russia scored three straight points capped by Tetyukhin's ace.
"That inspired us to win the match," Mikhaylov said through a translator.
Mikhaylov hit two straight aces to put Russia ahead 12-4 in the fourth set. Rooney sparked a U.S. rally with three straight kills and the team came within 13-11, but Russia pulled away to force the deciding set.
"They know how close that was to being a win for us (but) they know that it happened in the right arena. If it's going to happen it happened in pool play," U.S. coach Alan Knipe said. "It's not what we wanted but if we're the team that we pride ourselves on being we'll respond well from this."
Russia and the United States each have three gold medals in volleyball, which became an Olympic sport in 1964.
The Russians, who won the bronze medal in Beijing, have not won a gold since 1980.
The Americans return six players from the emotional gold medal run in Beijing. Hugh McCutcheon's father was stabbed to death at a popular Chinese tourist site a day before opening ceremony and the coach missed the team's first three matches before leading them to the Olympic title.
McCutcheon has since gone over to the U.S. women's team and Knipe took over the men.
Earlier in the day, Poland swept Britain to improve to 3-1 in Pool A and secure a spot in the quarterfinals. Zbigniew Bartman scored 20 points in the 25-16, 25-19, 25-18 victory.
Britain, which earned a place in the 12-team field as the host nation, is winless in the competition and was eliminated from the quarterfinal round.
Germany stayed alive in Pool B with a three-set win over Tunisia (25-15, 25-16, 26-16) to pull even at 2-2.
Former cricket player Steve Waugh was at Earls Court to cheer for Australia, which went up two sets on Italy before falling 3-2 (21-25, 18-25, 25-21, 25-14, 15-13).
The No. 22 Volleyroos had enthusiastic support from the fans as the underdogs against Italy. The Australians hugged after the match, and when they turned to acknowledge the crowd, they were rewarded with a standing ovation.