Author Topic: Olympic Beach Volleyball – What a view  (Read 1112 times)


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Olympic Beach Volleyball – What a view
« on: August 06, 2012, 02:03:08 pm »
On Saturday, I had a brilliant day out at the Olympics. I met a friend and together we travelled into Pimlico from south of the river. The weather was a little blustery, with just enough sun to make the day bright and warm enough to comfortably wear a t-shirt, but carry little risk of sunburn. Our plan was to walk from Pimlico, via a couple of pubs, to Hyde Park then on to Horse Guards Parade to watch the last two games of the day – women’s and men’s Beach Volleyball.

After a couple of pints and a ceremonial whiskey and cigar, we entered Hyde Park. Thousands of people thronged the space and created an atmosphere easily the rival of Glastonbury festival, especially pleasant was a distinct lack of drunks and drugs. Supporters of all manner of nations mingled in their team kits, with flags galore, and the universal language of smiles, pointing and high fives was in evidence everywhere.

We queued for £5 a pint beers, then took up residence on the floor in front of one of the giant screens, part of a virtual carpet of spectators. The rousing sound of thousands of people cheering on any and every competitor during the track cycling was a lot of fun. The pinnacle came as the British women rode to a spectacular victory in the team pursuit. Suddenly the whole of Hyde Park was on their collective feet, a continual roar of cheering drowning out the music from the stage, as the cyclists powered around the track to win the gold.

The walk to Horse Guards Parade went quickly and then we were in, through the ever impressive Army staffed security check. Passing sand sculptures we came across the temporary stadium for the beach volleyball – an impressive 15,000 seat structure made of scaffolding and with 4,500 tons of sand forming the court.

What a view

The first game was women’s teams USA vs. Netherlands, followed by men’s USA vs. Russia. Every seat was filled and the atmosphere electric. There was enthusiastic cheering for pretty much everything from the rakers, through the cheerleaders and for every ball smashed across the net. I am not sure what kind of boardshorts Marina Hyde is used to, as the skin-tight trunks of the male cheerleaders left far less to the imagination than the frilly costumes of their female counterparts!

The Benny Hill theme is probably one of my most hated sounds; I cannot bring myself to call it music. However, it is a tradition in the sport that it plays whenever the rakers take to the sand, established before the sport entered the Olympics, and which plays a part of the feel-good party dynamic of this fast paced sport. The Olympic organisers did well with their choice of crowd rallying music, with nearly all the clips pounding out iconic snatches of British music, from the stamp-and-clap-along ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘Another one Bites the Dust’ by Queen, to Blur and many, many others. There is no differentiation in music between the men and women’s games.

On to the sport itself. The women’s game was a demonstration of US dominance, with the Netherland’s women fighting a rearguard action from the first blistering serve until they conceded the loss after two sets. There were scraps and dives, but ultimately they couldn’t compete with the US’s Borg-like teamwork and incredible command of the ball, often placed within inches of the line. The US women had such control over their positioning that it was rare for the Netherlands to manage to find space to land the ball and the agility and speed of movement of both teams was highly impressive. The Netherlands fired the fastest ball of the two games I watched, a blistering 80km/h ace, though ultimately the famous quote ‘resistance is futile’ springs to mind.

The crowd went wild at the announcement of Jessica Ennis’s destruction of her opposition to win gold in the Heptathlon, then it was on to the next, and last, game of the night was the men’s teams of the two cold war enemies facing off. USA vs. Russia.

The US took an early lead in the first set and finished it convincingly, leading the crowd to wonder if we were to see another assimilation by the US Borg. However, Russia was not going to submit without a fight and came into the second set with a level of aggression that easily matched their opposition. The US and Russian competitors fought every single point, diving at long balls, rallying in a flurry of sand and roar of voices. They went point for point. Suddenly the jubilant crowd was hushed as Russia prepared to take the game into the sudden death, third set. The 6’11” Russian served the ball straight into the net and lost a point. Then the US fired back a 70km/h ace and won to cheers that reverberated through the stands.

I have watched almost all the beach volleyball that has been played so far, on television and then live on Saturday. To pick up on the tail end of the Guardian article that inspired me to write this, regarding the difference in filming of men’s and women’s games, I have noticed it to be very similar indeed but for a bit of an exception. Beach volleyball is a game that seems almost designed to make the best of high frame rate slow motion filming. It seems that the men seem to get more ‘slow-mo’ close up time than the women, not at the net where coverage is almost identical but away from it. Watching live, so able to see the whole game rather than the broadcast, I got an impression of why that may be. The women’s game play was very different to the men’s – shots would often go unchallenged as the ball dropped into dead space on the court, where similar shots in the men’s game would see an athlete diving headlong backwards on the court, flicking it into the air, just in time for his partner to catch it with a last ditch dive of his own before firing off a return. There were only one or two times that the men left a ball unchallenged –  it seemed that they would rather smash it into the crowd in their last ditch attempt, losing the point trying to save it, rather than write it off. The women seemed to have set the bar much higher for what they thought was a worthwhile save. Clearly this approach to play, when viewed through an editor’s eyes, creates an abundance of exciting slow motion zooms and pans in the men’s game that don’t present themselves in the women’s. Also, the customary celebration after each point is very different. The men typically let out a high five and a roar, arms clenched and muscles bulging, where the women typically touch hands or share a quick hug, saving their fearsome celebration for the win or a particularly hard fought point, again making the task of picking an exciting close up easier.

Beach volleyball, far from being a sport watched by grubby men, was enjoyed by a superb crowd of men, women and children, whose cheers rang out louder than the venue’s sound system. The match set hearts racing and left us hoarse and with sore hands after all the shouting, cheering and clapping. I can still hear the announcer encouraging a deafening response from the crowd calling out the first half of the country, to be answered by 15,000 voices ‘Rush... Ahh! ; US...Aaa! ; Nether... Laaaands!’ . The women’s and men’s games are played very differently and both are superb to watch – they should definitely be watched in tandem, one after the other, for maximum enjoyment of such an exciting spectator sport.

We thoroughly enjoyed our day out at the Games, and beach volleyball has definitely taken a place as one of my favourite sports to watch, though I don’t see it being able to beat my enjoyment of track cycling any time soon!

EDIT: Oops, forgot to put the Graun link
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