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Beach volleyball the highlight of a day speeding around the Olympics

By Kevin Garside

Kevin Garside ticks off the venues with a mad dash across the city, but seems to spend a dubious amount of time at the beach volleyball...

I'm all done with Mexican waves. The Mayor of London was in there among the knickers and bras, imploring the Downing Street End to rise one more time.

It was an appeal already made by the lady to my left from Reading, who was delighted with her brief exposure to the Olympic Games and the rounded rears of the women from Argentina and Spain. She had applied for tickets to the beach volleyball "so that my husband could see some bums". Pass the smelling salts.

Boris Johnson, never one to miss an opportunity to star in a front-page picture, was going where former president of the United States George W Bush had been before, answering a call from Misty May Treanor to "pat my butt". Dubya did not demure for long. "Go on Mr President. You know you want to," said Ms Treanor bending over and pointing to the spot. This was during a whistle-stop tour of American athletes in Beijing. Reuters were all over Dubya's bum note.

A few days before my mission dropped, The Times sent their restaurant critic along to Horse Guards Parade to chew over the menu. You wondered if he had not lost his way and found himself in Raymond's Revue Bar instead. His salacious bulletin was layered with sharp observations and wit, amounting to a posh version of the smutty postcard from Blackpool. Ooh er missus. It was an easy goal to score against a "sport" that trades on the disclosure of the female anatomy. Why not go the whole hog? Send the girls out topless in thongs and hand the mike to Peter Stringfellow for some bawdy asides at beachside.

The activity's chief self-defeating selling point is reinforced between sets when, at the sound of trumpets, on come the bikini-clad dancing girls of the Horse Guards Parade Troupe, a temporary ensemble devoted to shaking booties while the athletes take a breather. What this has to do with serious sport it is hard to fathom. It passes the time. The athletes are clearly capable. But winning and losing seems incidental, which has got to be anti-Olympian.

One could not argue with the setting, however. I confess to spending a dubious morning at the very same event at the Sydney Olympics 12 years ago. Australia thought it had the perfect spot, erecting an arena in the middle of Bondi Beach. There was much to commend it, not least the support cast decorating the environs in their minimalist finery.

But there was no Downing Street End, no Whitehall Stand, no Big Ben in the background and no ministerial underlings bending noses against windows. I left to the sound of The Clash banging out a rendition of London Calling. Joe Strummer declared the Nineties the decade of the body. I'm not sure that excused the pairing of his punk anthem with Hispanic torsos rolling in sand, however toned.

This day in the life of the Olympics began with British archer Naomi Folkard firing arrows from the Pavilion End at Lord's. The incongruity was softened by the civility of the audience, which observed Olympic conventions in a way not encouraged on the Horse Guards promenade.

That said, the Olympic Family had the run of the Long Room, which would never have happened in Sir Spencer Ponsonby-Fane's day. It took more than an IOC chequebook to persuade the old MCC treasurer to look the other way.

Ms Folkard was positioned on the spot from where Jimmy Anderson starts his run-up. The target, appropriately enough, was on the crease at the far end of the wicket where Graeme Smith will face Anderson in a fortnight's time. Lord's was given a five out of five rating for its hosting of the archery. It was hard to fault that even in a steady drizzle.

Folkard came from a set down to beat her Russian opponent Kristina Timofeeva in the third and deciding rubber, which occasioned the mass waving of Union Jacks. The reward was a place in the last 16. Sadly on a day of British disappointment her journey was to end there.

Mine, after the sandy diversion chez Boris, took me to Wembley Arena and a more traditional setting that allowed the action to speak for itself. I would warn, however, against crossing St James' Square without a set of mirrors strapped to your shoulders, indispensable in helping pick out oncoming members of the Formula One cabbies association. Wembley is no-one's idea of Olympic splendour, yet the venue, host to the boxers in 1948, was validated entirely by the badminton and the engagement of those watching.

A couple of nippers running down Wembley Way on the approach to the arena were thrilled with their London 2012 tracksuit tops and bags. Behind them their mothers talked excitedly in a broad Ulster accent about their Olympic experience. Is this what Lord Coe means by legacy? Britain's Susan Egelstaff was drawn to meet Japan's Sato Sayaka. Perhaps informed by the omnipotence of Oriental athletes in this discipline the enthusiasm of the crowd carried more than a hint of sympathy for Egelstaff.

Our girl took the first set 21-18, a just outcome considering the degree of gamesmanship to which Sayaka stooped. The Japanese equivalent of "you cannot be serious" echoed around the court. Disappointingly her interventions evinced a commensurate upswing in performance, as they used to for John McEnroe. From a position of promise Egelstaff slid inexorably out of the match, losing in three sets.

That left a mad dash across the city to the ExCel Arena for the women's 63kg weightlifting final. After those goddesses in the sand, the musculature of the power girls presented a contrasting vision of the feminine ideal. Elsa Baquerizo McMillan, Spain's beach volleyball left blocker, might get the last dance but if you need a wheel changing on the way home, Maiya Maneza of Kazakhstan is your golden girl. You would not need to bother the jack.

Ms Maneza can lift twice her bodyweight above her head and hold it there while whistling. Her combined lifts in the snatch and clean and jerk amounted to a colossal 245 kilos.

It brought tears to these eyes.

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