Rock and roll meets sport
29 July 2012
Beach Volleyball: Beach volleyball is the rock and roll sport of the London Olympics.
And even though a cold wind was blowing and the temperature was dipping rapidly on Saturday night in London, the big crowd at the purpose-built stadium on Horse Guards Parade didn’t lose their enthusiasm.
Beach volleyball has got its act all worked out when it comes to big tournaments like this. It’s about two things – the athleticism of the sport, and entertainment. And the fans love it. They appreciate the ability of the competitors to strain for – and make – seemingly impossible shots, and they delight in getting carried away with the sights and sounds.
Music blares between shots, and during the rest breaks between sets. The commentator wears the microphone out, continually revving the crowd to get involved. Spectators often sing along to the music, and start Mexican waves. When the competitors aren’t on the sand, a group of young men and women take to the court wearing swimsuits and doing dance routines. And the crowd laps it up.
You’ll hear bits of hits from the past 50 years at the beach volleyball. On this night they kept the crowd rocking with a myriad of well-known tunes, from the more current Moves Like Jagger (Maroon 5) and California Gurls (Katy Perry), going back to classics like Pump It Up (Elvis Costello and The Attractions), We Will Rock You (Queen), Back In Black (AC/DC), Start Me Up (The Rolling Stones), Whole Lotta Love (Led Zeppelin) and My Generation (The Who).
Even the theme music from The Benny Hill Show got a send-around, whenever the guys and girls whose job it was to quickly level the sand out with wooden-ended brooms during breaks in play went to work.
The venue is a great one. Beach volleyball is a sport that has a very modern feel, and the stadium provides a terrific amphitheatre effect. But the history of the city of London also provides a magnificent backdrop. And off a little way in the distance you can see the top half of the London Eye, in a variety of flashing colours.
On this occasion, despite the chilly conditions, most of the crowd stayed around for the feature match between Australian pair Natalie Cook and Tamsin Hinchley and Americans Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, which didn’t start until 11pm. It was well worth it. The two teams put on a tremendous display. The Americans won in two tight sets, but the match could have gone either way.
Cook was one half of the gold medal-winning team in Sydney in 2000, and the American duo won the gold in Athens, in 2004, and Beijing, in 2008. It was a classic encounter, and Cook got right into the spirit by revving the crowd up to support the Aussies whenever she got the chance.
“I love to orchestrate the crowd,” Cook said. “And the guy on the microphone was awesome, the way he kept pumping the crowd up. Those were the zaniest conditions I’ve ever played in.”
Beach volleyball, where the city of London meets the sea, or at least the truckloads of sand that have been brought in. Try it.
Greg Prichard in London