As a fairly new Olympic sport, first introduced in Atlanta 1996, Beach Volleyball has been making waves amongst spectators. Known well for its scantily clad uniforms, it has often been a unique highlight of the games. At London 2012, I went to Day 2 of the evening matches at Horse Guards Parade to see what all the fuss was about.
Whilst its popularity bodes quite well for the sport, Beach Volleyball does also have its fair share of criticisms. Many people say that its not a serious sport, and not worthy/appropriate for Olympic standards.
It is very gimmick heavy, they really have pulled out all the attention-grabbing stops: endless clips of high energy sing-a-long songs, Mexican waves, conga lines, beach dancers during time-outs and Peter Dixon providing commentary. The atmosphere is buzzing live, with all the people on their feet, dancing and cheering. It is probably the liveliest sporting event in the Olympics, and is a far cry from the silence required in sports such as tennis and gymnastics. You certainly won’t be asked to ‘quiet please’ at the Beach Volleyball.
Although the crowd is highly revved up, sometimes the gimmicks are quite excessive and you can find yourself being deterred from the actual sporting. You end up missing points here and there because you were singing along to the ‘Wa-hooo’s’ in Blur’s Song 2. Whilst it is enjoyable, it does beg to question whether such gimmickry is actually needed.
On face value, as a sport Beach Volleyball is very compelling. In fact, I find it more compelling than the indoor Volleyball, which in comparison feels much less engaging. The simplicity of just having two players, compared with six on the indoor version, makes for more gripping viewing, as the players have to cover more of the court and equally tactically place the ball in the opponent’s half. While the six-man official indoor version of the sport excels in organisation, technique and delegation, the two-man beach version is more fast paced and seems to showcase a lot more of the tact and precision of volleyball.
Whilst the majority of the audience was full of lads keen to gawp at the female athletes, the session I attended had very little flesh on show. The Brazilian women came on covered in full body outfits ahead of their match against the Netherlands. Although this was mainly due to the fact that this was the evening session in a very chilly London, it did allow for the event to shine more for its sportsmanship. I found myself taking the event much more seriously, watching each spike and block with intent.
With regards to London 2012, I’m not sure that having an outdoor event that goes on until midnight works very well in the British summer, as the crowds thinned drastically by 10pm – and this could’ve been due to the fact that the women’s matches had finished, or because there was a great chill wind blowing over Horse Guards Parade – either way it doesn’t bode well for the sport! Don’t get me wrong, the location for the Beach Volleyball is fantastic, with the London Eye, BT Tower, and Nelson’s Column all providing a picturesque backdrop, but perhaps the event should finish at 10pm, and only the indoor sports should go on so late.
Nevertheless the sportsmanship displayed was fantastic. The Brazilian women, Antonelli and Rocha T, played with such finesse that they beat the Netherlands with ease. Even the men’s matches were just as thrilling to watch as USA took on Japan in a competition full of aces. And surprisingly, by far the most rousing match-up was the men’s Mexico vs Switzerland, in which, despite the lateness and the ever-decreasing temperatures, both teams fought a vigorously close match with Mexico just scraping a win.
Beach Volleyball does belong in the Olympics, and while the gimmicks could be toned down, you can’t deny that they inject a lot of atmosphere and make for a more well-rounded and accessible games. And strangely you could also say that it does do wonders for sport because, yes, you go there attracted by the gimmicks, but you leave there a fan of the sport.