Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Life’s such a beach for volleyball fans

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Maria Antonelli of Brazil dives for a shot during the Women's Beach Volleyball Preliminary match between Brazil and Germany on Day 4 at Horse Guards Parade on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: A detailed view of the match ball during the Women's Beach Volleyball Preliminary match between Brazil and Germany on Day 4 at Horse Guards Parade on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Madelein Meppelink and Sophie van Gestel of the Netherlands celebrate during the Women's Beach Volleyball Preliminary match between Australia and the Netherlands on Day 4 at Horse Guards Parade on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Zara Dampney of Great Britain dives for a shot during the Women's Beach Volleyball Preliminary match between Great Britain and Italy on Day 4 at Horse Guards Parade on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Zara Dampney and Shauna Mullin of Great Britain celebrate a point during the Women's Beach Volleyball Preliminary match between Great Britain and Italy on Day 4 at Horse Guards Parade on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Marta Menegatti of Italy and Greta Cicolari of Italy celebrate during the Women's Beach Volleyball Preliminary match between Great Britain and Italy on Day 4 at Horse Guards Parade on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Zara Dampney and Shauna Mullin of Great Britain celebrate a point during the Women's Beach Volleyball Preliminary match between Great Britain and Italy on Day 4 at Horse Guards Parade on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Talita Rocha and Maria Antonelli of Brazil react during the Women's Beach Volleyball Preliminary match between Brazil and Germany on Day 4 at Horse Guards Parade on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Talita Rocha of Brazil reacts during the Women's Beach Volleyball Preliminary match between Brazil and Germany on Day 4 at Horse Guards Parade on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Laura Ludwig and Sara Goller of Germany arrive for the Women's Beach Volleyball Preliminary match between Brazil and Germany on Day 4 at Horse Guards Parade on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Laura Ludwig of Germany holds the ball during the Women's Beach Volleyball Preliminary match between Brazil and Germany on Day 4 at Horse Guards Parade on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 01: Chen Xue of China and Xi Zhang of China celebrate during the Women's Beach Volleyball Preliminary match between China and Greece on Day 5 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Horse Guards Parade on August 1, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 01: Xi Zhang of China celebrates during the Women's Beach Volleyball Preliminary match between China and Greece on Day 5 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Horse Guards Parade on August 1, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: April Ross and Jennifer Kessy of United States enter the court during the Women's Beach Volleyball Preliminary match between United States and the Netherlands on Day 4 at Horse Guards Parade on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Beach Volleyball? You gotta love it. What a sport. What a spectacle. What a lot of fun.

Bikinis, beer, Big Ben in the background and of course Beach Boys tracks. This was better than the opening ceremony!

You get to cover some obscure sports in the Olympics, but never in my life did I think I'd report from a beach volleyball game.

Duty called though so it was off to Horse Guards Parade in the centre of London to watch Team GB take on Italy last night.

It was pretty chilly out with rain in the air but unlike the Russian ladies who decided to don tracksuits later on, the brave British and Italian girls opted to stick with their normal two piece kits and bare some flesh.

The 15,000 inside the arena, especially the lager drinking men who made up half the crowd, seemed happy with that.

The Italians wore blue with Team GB dressed, or should that be undressed, in mainly red with a brief hint of white and blue for good measure.

The begrudgers say beach volleyball is just an excuse for blokes to get a look at scantily clad women jumping and rolling about in the sand.

It's much more than that.

Seriously!

Whoever chose the venue clearly has a sense of humour or history because it's flanked by the prime minister's offices, Winston Churchill's underground war rooms, a statue of Lord Mountbatten and St James Park with the London Eye in the background and Big Ben peeping out above the stands.

In the middle of all this there is a brilliant beach party going on.

Before play began the crowd were whipped into a frenzy by the enthusiastic public address announcer in the most boisterous of the Olympic venues I have visited so far.

In between points snippets of classic hits were belted out for the fans to rock to — “21st Century Boy” by T-Rex, “Start me Up” by the Rolling Stones, “Get your Rocks off” by Primal Scream, “We will Rock You” by Queen and “Five hundred miles” from the Proclaimers — and Beach Boys favourites were among the numbers that had everyone clapping along and waving their Union flags like there was no tomorrow.

Then in extended breaks in play the Horse Guards Parade Dance Crew (teenage boys and girls) in swimsuits would dance on the sand.

Looking on at times you felt you were in Hawaii.

The shapes they threw to the “Macarena” earned wild cheers that will be hard to match when Team GB win their first gold medal in London 2012.

The sport itself is essentially volleyball played on sand, so unlike quite a few Olympic events here in London, it's easy to follow.

The huge roars of delight when Team GB won a point could be heard by David Cameron around the corner but groans of despair were more apparent as the hosts couldn't live with the Italians, losing 21-18, 21-10.

Nobody, not even British pair Zara Dampney and Shauna Mullin who love a high five and a hug after every winning spike, seemed bothered by the result.

Beach volleyball may not have been in Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin's mind when he founded the modern Olympics, but, hey, I'm glad it's included. This fun and games London 2012 style is a great night out.

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