When talking to Dain Blanton, you instantly feel you are talking to an expert. Dain is not only the Olympic gold medalist from Sydney 2000 and first African-American to ever win an AVP Title (1997 AVP Hermosa Beach Grand Slam – at the time the biggest prize purse tournament in beach volleyball history). Since ending his playing career, Dain has been working in sports broadcasting the past decade, covering many sports as a reporter including Major League Baseball, College Football and Basketball as well as a five year run in the NBA as a reporter for the Los Angeles Clippers. He is now an analyst for the AVP and FIVB tours on NBC as well as Women’s Collegiate volleyball on ESPN. Moreover, Dain is an assistant coach at University of Southern California (USC) Women’s Beach Volleyball team which has won the collegiate NCAA Championship the past three seasons and he also gives 20-30 motivational speeches at schools and universities per year.
His familiy originally being from New York, Dain is thankful for having grown up in Laguna Beach (California) which enabled him to start with volleyball and beach volleyball from an early age. He preferred beach to indoor volleyball since it requires a well-rounded skill set. At the same time he is convinced that beach volleyball helps the indoor game and vice versa.
AVP is strong, but going for Olympics requires international competition
Being a commentator for AVP and FIVB, Dain has deep insights into both tours:
“The AVP tour is very strong and has always set the standard. I grew up watching and then learning my playing skills competing on the AVP. The international competition on the 5-star FIVB Major series is very deep, there are so many great teams because you are dealing with the best from all countries. To win on the international level is a huge challenge for any team.The Olympics are without question the biggest prize in the sport, it is the goal that every player aspires to, but in order to medal at the Olympics, you need to compete internationally, you need to be battle tested against international competition.”
Change in beach volleyball affects not only rules but also players
When considering the change in beach volleyball since his Olympic win, athletes have gotten significantly taller and physically stronger.
“20 years ago, the player with more skills was the the shorter player. Nowadays, taller players are agile, coordinated and overall well-rounded.”
Great examples are tall players as Evandro (Brazil) who besides blocking and hitting also have a considerable level of defending skills. The presumably most skilled player in the world might be Phil Dalhausser (height: 6-9/206 cm) who is most often rewarded for being best server, best setter, best blocker and best hitter. Overall, the level of international beach volleyball is higher and more competitive than it used to be.
This development is partly due to rule changes that occurred after Sydney 2000 when the court size was reduced from 30×30 feet per side to 8×8 meters. Since this rule change made blocking more effective and favorable for tall full-time blockers, Dain and his Sydney 2000 partner Eric Fonoimoana split up in search of taller partners for the Olympics 2004.
“We thought we might be better off with taller players. But looking back, I would rather have played together with Eric in 2004. Eric is a fighter and at the end we had skills that you might not see on paper, but we had the competitveness and a special chemistry.”
Players like Bruno show the importance of well-rounded technical skills
When asked for his favorite player, Dain refers to Bruno Oscar Schmidt (Brazil) because of his technical skills, his approach and anticipation. Although playing with his rather intimidating partner Alison, opponents usually do not serve Bruno due to his extraordinary skills. Similarly skilled players are Janis Smedins (Latvia) and Nick Lucena (USA), both rather short and technical players who show the importance of well-rounded technical skills in beach volleyball.
On the women’s side, Dain is impressed by the latest success of April Ross and Alix Klineman at the FIVB 4-star event in The Hague (Netherlands).
“April has proved that she is the best player in the United States at the moment. She is playing with something to prove. I believe Gold in 2020 is her ultimate prize. She has matured into the type of player that can play with anybody and raise their game to an entirely different level. Now with her former London silver medalist partner Jen Kessy as her coach, I believe there is a great chemistry which might turn into a magical combination. You cannot discount how important that is.”
Being an inspiration for others as coach and speaker
Regarding his current activities as assistant coach and motivational speaker, Dain is passionate to pass on some of the skills he has learned in his professional career. Especially his speeches at high schools are full of inspirational stories on what it takes to be successful which includes work ethic, tools and the art of surrounding yourself with the right people.