Sport, Sand and Sex: Olympic Beach Volleyball is the Newest Craze

Posted Aug 27, 2004 by Chris Hogg
Chris Hogg, Editor-in-Chief of Digital Journal, reports from Athens on the newest craze, Olympic Beach Volleyball. — Photo by Julia Suppa
ATHENS (djc Features) — Following along through the viewfinder of my camera, I watch Brazil’s Adriana Behar read her opponent as the sweat from her forehead trickles down her nose. The sounds of her calling out to her team mate are muted by the roaring crowd. I ready my camera for the close-up, but lose her from my sights as she dashes back for a diving bump. The play doesn’t last long before it is batted down into the sand by team mate Shelda Bede. It’s a point for Brazil.
“Olé, Olé, Olé, Olé, Brazil, Brazil,” the crowd sings in rhythmic unison. A flash of red, white and blue streaks in from the left and diverts my attention away from the match — it’s a couple wrapped in the colours of the USA — as they plop themselves down right in front of me.
To get a better photo position, I get up and walk slowly past five police officers and a soldier who are sweeping the audience with careful eyes. In front of them, a group of girls are chugging back Heineken from plastic bottles and standing up periodically to dance and sing.
Cheerleaders liven up the crowd at the gold medal beach volleyball match between Brazil and the United States in Athens. — Photo by Chris Hogg, djc Features
“I want everybody in the audience to stand up and do the wave,” the announcer calls in Greek and then in English. The crowd heeds the order and fans out in a massive wave as though it had been practiced a hundred times before. “Let’s go faster!” the announcer calls with a voice normally found only in strip clubs.
It’s getting louder, and the liveliness is picking up more than I could have anticipated. To my left, a Portuguese man hoists his son onto his shoulders to see the action. He raises him slowly but surely, as though he’s raising a flag for a medal ceremony.
The thumping sound of loud bass pushes the rhythm of an old-school dance song into every corner of the venue. Screams and cheers erupt without call or warning as the bass gets even louder. My heart adjusts itself to keep time with the chest-pounding pulses. It’s only a game of beach volleyball, but the crowd celebrates as though it’s New Year’s Eve, 1999.
When I look back on the gold medal match between Brazil and the USA — only a snapshot in the timeline of the 2004 Summer Olympics that has passed now — I can’t help but notice that the experience has left a lasting impression.
The Olympics are mostly about sport, indeed, but beach volleyball is in a class on its own. That is because, for sports that are not widely followed by a vast audience, the Olympics is the time and place to attract attention.
Beach volleyball made it’s debut in Atlanta in 1996, but became internationally popular after the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia, when female athletes stripped down to very revealing uniforms. Sydney marked the year that crowds of true volleyball fans were trumped by the spectators coming out just to see beautiful women and muscular men. In Athens this year, the same thing has occurred only it seems to have skipped an eon of evolution, and become one big party.
Kerri Walsh of the U.S. Olympic Beach Volleyball Team signals to team mate Misty May before serving the ball at the gold medal match against Brazil. — Photo by Chris Hogg, djc Features
The Olympic Beach Volleyball Centre was built specifically for the sport, and the venue is perfect for its audience. Under a small, slanted roof, the starry night sky twinkles and flood lights soak the stadium in bright white light. The thunderous crowds are entertained by music that comes from every direction, and huge television screens churn out up-to-the-minute action and instant replays.
It’s the biggest and most lively event of everything I have seen at the 2004 Games.
The athletes celebrate boisterously by dancing and bear hugging each other, enjoying the atmosphere just as much as the crowd. It’s a far cry from the pin-dropping silence found in some other sporting complexes.
Also, between timeouts, sets and games, cheerleaders race out into the sand to keep the crowd alive. In fact, officials actually imported the bikini-clad cheerleaders from the Canary Islands to entertain specifically for this event. The group of 12 is commonly seen at international beach volleyball tournaments, but rarely at traditional Olympic events. Nevertheless, they have proven to be very popular; male spectators rise out of their seats even before they come out, as if each guy has his own radar that blips when a timeout is nearing.
The United States’ gold and bronze medalists pose with the Brazilian silver medalists after the final beach volleyball match in Athens. — Photo by Chris Hogg, djc Features
Also this year, officials shrunk the size of the athletes’ uniforms. Beach volleyball is a sport that trades itself on the combined image of athleticism and sex appeal, but this year’s Games have featured the sport like never before. For Athens, sexuality and athletic skill have become completely intertwined with pop culture, music and partying.
Organizers have even admitted to using sex appeal just as much as athletic ability to sell tickets and get a share of the estimated three billion viewers watching it on TV at home. And from what I’ve seen, it’s worked.
Beach volleyball has become one of the most popular sports of the Olympic Games, and like it or not, it is most probably because the women wear bikinis and the men wear muscle-baring tank tops.
In an interview last week, USA beach volleyball gold medalist Kerri Walsh said, “If people think we’re sexy because we wear this, let them come out, think we’re sexy and enjoy that part of it, and then see that we’re also pretty dynamic athletes as well.”
Other events I have seen have been exciting, but not nearly to the same extent as an Olympic beach volleyball match. The thrills at other events are sporadic and climatic, whereas beach volleyball is ongoing fun.
The crowd watches on as the USA women’s beach volleyball team takes gold in the final match against Brazil. — Photo by Chris Hogg, djc Features

If we can learn anything from the Summer Games in Athens, it’s that merging sport with lifestyle will sell tickets and get people up out of their seats. If there is going to be any changes in other sports between now and the 2008 Games in Beijing, I would suggest dropping the hard-line formalities and try to have some fun.
If other sports could adopt an energetic, lively and new age attitude like that of beach volleyball, perhaps the world would have more to celebrate.