The Miami Herald

Dave Barry: Beach volleyball is the sport of lonely kings and fine Russian women

I went to see the Olympic beach volleyball competition, which is being held, fittingly, in the heart of Whitehall at the Horse Guards Parade.

I say “fittingly” because the Horse Guards have a beach volleyball tradition dating back more than five centuries, to the reign of King Cedric the Lonely. In those days the Horse Guards played an early form of the game called “volleybaa,” which involved batting a live sheep back and forth across a net. The game ended when one of the teams executed a “spike,” which — try not to visualize this — involved an actual spike. Then the Horse Guards would clean themselves off and go back to guarding the horses, which was an important job in those days because King Cedric was very lonely indeed.

Modern beach volleyball, of course, does not involve a sheep: It involves women wearing extremely small bikinis. A ball is also sometimes involved, but nobody pays attention to it. There is a related Olympic event called “men’s beach volleyball,” but it is far less popular, because it has an archaic rule requiring that the competitors be men.

I have a message for the officials in charge of men’s beach volleyball: This is the 21st century. Your sport is never going to gain widespread public acceptance until you open the competition to allow hot women in microscopic swimwear. I would give the same advice to officials of other little-known Olympic sports seeking TV coverage, such as skeet-shooting, horse-riding, kayaking, table tennis and the luge.

On the day I went to beach volleyball, the stadium was packed, and they had the mandatory announcer incessantly asking the audience members how they were doing and telling them when to cheer. I can remember a time, decades ago, when if you went to a sporting event, nobody told you when you were supposed to cheer: You had to figure it out on your own, based on physically watching the event. Also we didn’t have “the wave.” It was a horrible time to be alive, which is why so many of the people who went through it are dead today.

But getting back to beach volleyball: The match I watched was between women’s teams from Italy and Russia. Both of these teams appeared to be in excellent physical condition. I can remember a time, also decades ago (I’m sorry, but a lot of my life occurred decades ago) when the Cold War was going on, and we Americans hated the Russians, and our image of female Russian Olympic competitors was that they all weighed 327 pounds and had the same body type as a UPS truck and armpit hair that could conceal a household appliance. Let me just say, based on careful observation of the Russian women’s beach-volleyball team, that those days are OVER.

It was a hard-fought match featuring a great deal of jumping around, and it was very close, but in the end, the victory went, as expected, to one of the two teams. Afterward I used my media credential to gain entrance to the “mixed zone,” where members of the news media can talk to the athletes and ask them professional questions about sports. I went over to where some reporters were interviewing one of the Russian players, whose name is Evgeniya Ukolova, or possibly Ukolova Evgeniya. I stood there for a while before I realized that, as a professional, I should probably take some notes, so I did. Here they are, in their entirety:

“She is speaking Russian.”

The next match was between Spain and the Czech Republic, but both teams consisted entirely of men, so, as a professional journalist whose job is to keep you, the reading public, informed, I left.

Speaking of keeping you informed, here is an:

URGENT BREAKING OLYMPIC BULLETIN: There is a Chinese athlete here competing in trampoline — yes, trampoline is an Olympic event — and his name is Dong Dong. I am not making this up. It is not known at this time whether Dong Dong has any plans to visit Dorking.




© 2012 Dave Barry. All Rights Reserved.
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