Apparently there are a lot of sporting events taking place across London at the moment—from cycling to canoeing, horse riding to field hockey, swimming to soccer. Being here, though, and especially being involved, I really have no idea what is going on.
I’m lucky enough to be volunteering at the London 2012 Olympic Games and even luckier to have a relatively interesting role in press operations. Unfortunately, I’m not really supposed to go into too much detail about this right now, due to both general security concerns and exclusive deals that the International Olympic Committee has with various media organizations. I am, however, getting to watch a lot of beach volleyball.
The whole city is of course busy. Traveling to and from work, there are crowds of spectators and tourists meandering their way across town and asking me, in my lovely red and purple uniform, all sorts of questions that I don’t know the answer to. Flick on a TV or glance at a newspaper and the news is dominated by Olympic coverage, especially dealing with the frustrations so far of the local medal favorites.
But with the Games lasting just over two weeks and including such a huge variety of sports, there is just too much going on. Even sitting at home in front of the TV and computer, it would be impossible to be up to date with every twist and turn, and I don’t have that luxury.
I don’t have a smart phone, and even if I did, there wouldn’t be much time to make use of it. Apart from being able to look up at the sky and see the swarming helicopters tracking down some newsworthy item, most days I have to wait to get home to discover what has happened. And when I’m not too exhausted to tune in and catch some of the action, I find myself surfing through to check the latest on the beach volleyball.
I have to admit knowing next to nothing about this sport before I got randomly assigned to it; I wasn’t even hugely knowledgeable about who two-time Olympic gold medalist and Cardinal legend Kerri Walsh Jennings ’00 was. But after sitting around for a few days watching game after game and poring over the competition’s media guide, I’m now a little bit enthralled. On the days I get to come home early, it feels hard to tear myself away.
Beach volleyball is loud, a bit brash and perhaps best known for the skimpy bikinis worn by the female athletes. It has attracted quite a lot of attention from both enthusiastic locals and intrigued politicians—the temporary stadium sits right in the heart of the iconic center of London, just a stone’s throw from most government buildings. But behind the dancers and the music lies a real sport.
To quote Walsh Jennings, “Sometimes it’s just the beer and the bikinis that get people to come and watch, but it’s the competition that’s keeping them there.”
On my first day off, I headed across to visit the Olympic Park, where several of the main venues, including the Olympic Stadium, are located. It was a weird experience, as my friends and I had tickets to the park but not to any of the stadiums inside. It was a little bit like spending a day at a theme park but not being allowed on any of the rides. Worse still, there were a few big screens showing us exactly how much fun those with real tickets were having.
But even being at ground zero, it was hard to get a real feeling for what was going on. If you watch one event, you miss another. Perhaps when the athletics starts it will be possible to sit back in your seat in the stadium—assuming you are lucky enough to have one—and see a host of simultaneous events, but even then it just isn’t possible to focus on everything at once.
And especially not now. Not with a new sport occupying my waking thoughts. This won’t last, though, because the beach volleyball tournament will come to a close in just a week. When it does, it will surely fade away as the bigger sports come crowding back into my consciousness.
Or will it? It seems that women’s beach volleyball, under the name of “sand volleyball,” is now an NCAA sport. Perhaps it one day follow me back to Stanford.
Tom Taylor has a killer serve himself when it comes to beach volleyball. Get some useful tips from him at firstname.lastname@example.org.