Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Olympics 2: Beach Volleyball

Nearly every time I've mentioned to a mate that I won tickets to the Olympic beach volleyball in the draw the ever so slightly jealous reaction has centred around the eye pleasing attributes of the players, as opposed to their sporting prowess. Cue standard pervy picture (the Czechs).
Believe or not, only a small part of the occasion was spent leering (I will have you know that Christina took that picture!) because there was all round too much else to enjoy. If you did not know already, the temporary stadium has been parked right in the middle of Horse Guards Parade. Yup, a stone's throw from Buckingham Palace, with Downing Street as its neighbour and its backdrop consisting of Parliament, London Eye and, of course, the magnificent buildings of Horse Guards. A simply awesome setting, topped off by some Mediterranean weather.

The games weren't half bad either. First up, Czech Republic ladies gave the Mauritians a bit of a trouncing. This was followed by a fiercely competed match between China ladies and the Swiss, the former edging it in the decider. A lot of good rallies, high fives and, in particular from the Chinese, uber competitive shrieking.
It then switched over to the men's, with an intimidatingly impressive Norwegian team (who according to Christina should be forced to play topless to match the ladies in bikinis situation...please speak to your local IOC representative...) thumped an enthusiastic, but much weaker Canadian side. Last up were my top team of the day, a highly skilled Latvian team, who put the South African pair to the sword. Loads of testosterone, the odd chest bump and, happily, simply great beach volleyball. The ferocity of the spikes and tenacity of defence on some of the points really took me aback.
We had a great time. I was not sure how my one year old would take the whole experience, but safe to say Niko loved it as much as his parents. The noise, the cheers, the clapping, the music. He so wore himself out that he missed one of the games fast asleep, sheltering from the sun beneath our GB flag, before waking back up to make more friends in the crowd.
Bar the few empty seats which have grabbed the news headlines (it was shocking to see a whole block of "Olympic family" seats empty at an event that was apparently the most over subscribed in the whole Olympics), the organisers have done a brilliant job with the beach volleyball. They enhanced the inspired choice of venue with a party atmosphere. At every mini break, dancers poured on with sassy routines, conga lines formed - an impromptu one led by Canadians in hockey helmets - music blasted out and the MC joked around. The crowd really got into it and it felt a million miles away from any other Tuesday morning in the City.
As a Londoner, the whole thing gave me a tinge of pride. For some reason it really meant something when the friendly Belgians next to us commented on how great an event it was. From a spectator perspective, for me, this is what the Olympics are all about. Turning up to watch some random sport you know sod all about, sharing in the experience with people from all over the world, saluting the impressive athletes and wandering off with a broad smile wanting to find a beach to start volleyballing on.
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