(Tickets: £20 – Category E, Horse Guards Parade)
Described by the Olympics as: Beach Volleyball made its Olympic debut at Atlanta 1996 and has since become one of the most popular spectator sports at the Games. The game is played outdoors by teams of two on a court that is 16m long and 8m wide. The aim of the sport is to land the ball in the opposition’s half of the court. After the serve, each team is allowed three touches of the ball before it must cross over the net. Matches are the best of three sets with 21 points needed to win (or 15 in deciding set)
Described by myself: Athletic, toned woman jumping around after a ball in hot bikinis on a beach. Also played by men, too.
The venue: Horse Guards Parade is an inspired choice to host this. After it was held in Beijing’s Chaoyang Park in 2008, London decided with the parade ground right in the heart of Central London. Coming in from the Mall, you have a build up area using the Eastern end of St James Park before being allowed in the actual Beach Volleyball Stadium complex.
A temporary arena has been constructed for the London 2012 Games, with a capacity similar to Wimbledon’s Centre Court of around 15,000. A total of 5,000 tonnes of sand is being brought in from a quarry in Godstone, Surrey, to create the capital’s very own 'beach’. Very much a temporary venue, I was lucky to be in the best corner of the stadium with views of St Pauls, the London Eye and Downing Street as well as a fantastic view of the court itself. And only for £20. Result.
The experience: This was the 1st day of the Olympics, so a Saturday night, with large amounts of alcohol made this a brilliant experience. Beach Volleyball is so OTT that this actually makes it more enjoyable and adds to the atmosphere and experience. The songs to build the crowd up, the Horse Guards Parade dancers and even the sweepers managed to add to the occasion. Add in the hot weather (it only got cold for the very last game which started at 11pm) this was the best sporting atmosphere I’ve ever experienced and cannot recommend it enough.
(The sweepers out in force!)
The matches: I had watched some of the opening beach volleyball session beforehand and was a little worried about how short rallies were compared to indoor volleyball. However, the 4 games I saw were all really great and featured some of the top beach volleyball players in the world. So much so, that since seeing my session, I’ve watched a few more games on TV and would happily go to another Beach Volleyball tournament…
MATCH 1: Ricardo Santos/Pedro Cunha (BRAZIL) beat Martin Spinnangr/Tarjei Viken Skarlund (NORWAY) 21-14 21-18
The Brazilian 7th seeds powered their way past the 18th seeds from Norway in this Pool F match. (The same pool the UK pair are in) Ricardo has a gold, silver and bronze medal from the 3 previous Olympic Games with his gold coming in 2004. Although not with his normal partner of Emanuel Rego (who is seeded #1 with his partner) he and Cunha had too much for the Norwegian pair and won in 2 sets. Ricardo “the wall” Santos was phenomenal in defence and should reach the Semis at least.
MATCH 2: Simone Kuhn/Nadine Zumkehr (SWITZERLAND) beat Maria Tsiartsiani/Vasiliki Arvaniti (GREECE) 21-13 21-19
This was probably the most low key of the four games as the Swiss 11th seeds eased their way to win over the Greek 14th seeds. While the Greeks caused more problems in the 2nd set, the Swiss ladies always had enough.
MATCH 3: Jacob Gibb/Sean Rosenthal (USA) beat Freedom Chiya/Grant Goldschmidt (S.AFRICA) 21-10 21-11
The final men’s game of the day featured the 4th seeds rip apart the S.African 21st seeds in a game that lasted just over 30 mins. Gibb and Rosenthal have been partners since 2006 and were coming into the tournament in top form winning some events before hand to suggest they can really compete with the two Brazilian pairs for the gold. Backed on by a lot of American’s who were there for Gibb, they delighted the fans with a top performance.
MATCH 4: Kerry Walsh Jennings/Misty May-Treanor (USA) beat Natalie Cook/Tamsin Hinchley (AUSTRALIA) 21-18 21-19
The last match of a card is normally the biggest and this was no exception. Featuring the reigning Olympic Champions from 2008 in the American pair of Kerry Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor with the 2000 Olympic Champion of Australian Natalie Cook, competing at her 5th Olympics. Although it was a two set win for the Americans, both sets were exceptionally tight and it was only late bursts that allowed the US pair to take both sets. Nat Cook also showed her experience with a great performance and got the crowd going a few times too. Brilliant stuff.
Overall: This was an exceptional evening which was vastly better than I expected. If you are lucky enough to have a beach volleyball ticket for some time later in the Olympics, you will love it. If you haven’t got a ticket, then get some sand, a ball and play this song on loud and you can make your own tournament. Highly recommended.