Olympics: Being There – Beach Volleyball

Beach Volleyball, Preliminaries (Men and Women), Horse Guards Parade 

Away from the Olympic Park the idea to build a temporary venue at Horse Guards Parade for the Beach Volleyball has been inspired. The walk to the venue gives visitors the chance to see Buckingham Palace from the Mall and then when inside, from the open roofed stands, the London Eye, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament are all visible from a seat in the Mall end.  As well as hosting a sport, Beach Volleyball at the 2012 Olympics is showcasing London, and adding value to ticket holders.

Once through security (again relatively quick despite an extra bag search after it passed the scanner), the grounds past the entrance are vast, almost festival like, with plenty of stalls of food, drink and merchandise; a glance at prices show that while still very expensive, Wimbledon and Wembley were charging slightly more for exactly the same t-shirts and beer, perhaps adding their own little surcharge.

Though play was scheduled to start at 9am on the morning session of Day 6 of the Games the area was already heaving just after 8am, a military band marching through grounds, playing music they would later play in the venue before the start of play, and giant models of Beach Volleyball players, both proving great photo opportunities.

The sport itself on Day 6 of The Games consisted of four qualifying matches from respective round-robin groups – two men’s matches and two women’s matches. Once seated we are subjected to an announcer trying to manufacture atmosphere before the actions starts, orchestrating the audience to act like sheep on her instructions, from the tiresome Mexican Wave to chants first by stand and then by gender. This continues when play starts, egged on by a bloke allowed play to music between points, with tracks ranging from the annoying dance variety to those from artists with more gravitas including The Kinks, The Who and The Clash. Any additional noise may have been Joe Strummer spinning in his grave; the only consolation would be to find out Strummerville is actually getting some royalties for the amount of time London Calling and other Clash tracks are being played during The Games.

The wave was even encouraged during points, as if the sport wasn’t interesting enough on its own. It didn’t seem to affect the players but gave the audience little credit for its attention to immerse itself in what was a new sport for most. The first match had the most quality with the Latvian men’s team, who before play had started had shown an intensity on the training pitch next to the venue that can be seen from the stands, too strong for their Dutch opponents, defeating them in two straight sets.

In the second game the men’s Brazilian team were too strong for their Italian counterparts, winning a long first-set 26-24, before dominating the second at the net to wrap up another straight sets victory. The advantage is often with the team receiving, as they have the opportunity to set-up play, and the fact Italy struggled with their serve anyway, giving away cheap points by failing to get the ball over the net, put them at a further disadvantage.

The third match, a women’s preliminary between the Netherlands and Argentina was also a straights sets affair, the Dutch winning in under 40 minutes, before the final match of the session, between Canada and Italy, provided the closest contest. The Italian women went a set-up before Canada won a second 25 minute set to take the game into the decider which Italy won 15-10. An entertaining match that included some great rallies, both pairs gave everything throughout and the atmosphere for the session peaked due to their competitive efforts.

Between matches, which were scheduled to start on the hour, and sometimes in breaks in the game, spectators were encouraged to cheer, and at times join in, with dancers (mainly young women) in beach costumes. Once again as at Wembley and Wimbledon earlier in the Games it was a wasted opportunity to show action from The Games elsewhere, where the two big screens at either end of the ground could really have lifted the crowd and added to the strong feeling attendees have of being part of a unique two-week festival of sport. Instead, disappointingly, there was a type of sweetener offered by organizers, apologetic eye candy almost for the Sport in between. But as performances in great venues across all sports in this fortnight are proving day after day, night after night, Sport needs no gimmicks.

MG

The Substantive Columnist Mel Gomes’ e-book Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley’ is now available to preview for free and download for £4.27 from Amazon and Smashwords. It documents football at the highest level and the journey of travelling around Europe in a sport where money is now valued alongside trophies. New, independent writing on popular culture, it is being backed by The Substantive.