The surprise hit of the 2012 London Olympics has to be Beach Volleyball.
Coming into these Games, it seemed a safe bet that more traditional British interests like Soccer, Cycling, Equestrian and Track and Field would draw the most attention. While those sports certainly brought in their share of fans and media interest, the hottest ticket definitely looks to be Beach Volleyball.
As I make my way across London and connect with Olympic staffers, fans and just average citizens of the great city, I invariably get asked what events I’ve had a chance to see in person. I start rattling off cycling, boxing, basketball – only to be consistently interrupted with: “Did you see the Beach Volleyball?”
I’ve actually resorted to starting my answer to the commonly asked question with, “I haven’t seen the Beach Volleyball yet, but…”
The secret of its appeal has to be its specific “non-British-ness,” if I can make up a word. It’s sun and sand – or sand at least, as the sun portion has been spotty at best thanks to the typical British summer. It’s lean, handsome, tanned human beings in skimpy suits. By its nature, Beach Volleyball is a boisterous, joyous game with opportunities for cheering and celebration after every point.
In short, it’s as much a party as an athletic event.
The game also plays off of the secret British obsession with California. While the weather to start the London Games was perfect and unusually sunny, the traditional English gloom has settled over London and its surrounding venues. It’s easy to understand why some folks here dream of a place with a reputation for 365 days of sun and warmth. California trumps Florida or Texas for the Brits because it also packs a little more cultural and artistic appeal.
On its way to become a popular draw here, Beach Volleyball was helped by a youthful vibe. That sounds a little silly as almost all of the events here are dominated by young athletes. You find a few 30+ competitions in Sailing, Cycling and Equestrian, but the rest – especially Gymnastics and Track – are full of kids, really. But, Beach Volleyball has that playful, surfer music sexiness to it that made it an impossible ticket to find over the last week and a half.
Even the event’s venue adds a little bit of exclusivity to the sport. It’s not in the massive Olympic Park – with its hectares of space. Beach Volleyball is in Central London – smack in the middle of Westminster at the Horse Parade Grounds.
Regular ceremonies around Buckingham Palace are prepped there when the Olympics aren’t dominating the scene. That’s a Wilson’s throw from 10 Downing Street, House of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. It’s five minutes’ walk from the London Media Centre where many journalist are covering the entire Olympics. It’s almost as if Beach Volleyball is too cool to hang out with the other sports back in the Olympic Park.
As of today’s news, the big story on the sand is tonight’s Gold Medal game between two American teams – April Ross and Jennifer Kessy vs. Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May.
All of the cool people in London will be watching.