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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 August, 2004, 06:23 GMT 07:23 UK
Bikini girls making waves
By Phil Gordos
BBC Sport in Athens

Kerry Walsh and Misty May

The Ancient Greeks would probably have scratched their heads in bemusement at the Olympic spectacle of beach volleyball.

But their 21st century counterparts cannot get enough of a sport one commentator likens to "karaoke on sand".

That sentiment may be a little harsh.

These are finely tuned athletes who play hard and are extremely proud of what they do.

They just happen to compete against a backdrop of music you would normally hear in the discos of Continental Europe.

During the women's final on Tuesday, the public address announcer urged spectators to clap their hands and stamp their feet in between points while blasting out tunes like YMCA over the loudspeakers.

He whipped up such a storm that at times the on-court action became secondary to what went on in the stands.

Yet the combination of sun, sand, sounds and sport seems to be a winning one. The crowd certainly love it.

And the players relish performing in such a vibrant atmosphere, even though the rewards on offer are not what they are used to.

At the Olympics, the prize is a medal - preferably a gold one. But on the professional beach volleyball circuit, the riches are more tangible.

Village People
YMCA is a big beach favourite

In 2004, the total purse for both men and women was close to 25m. That's a staggering amount and the reason why the sport is becoming more and more popular, perhaps at the expense of its more traditional rival.

Both Kerri Walsh, one half of the United States gold medal-winning team, and bronze medallist Elaine Youngs - also from America - used to play indoor volleyball.

So they are the perfect people to judge the relative merits of both.

For Walsh, there is no argument.

"Beach volleyball has been the hit of this Olympics," she insisted.

As for Youngs, it's all about enjoyment. "It's fun to play beach volleyball," she said. "We have a lot of fun doing what we do."

But not all the time, says Misty May, the other half of the newly-crowned Olympic champions.

"It's a nine-to-five job," she said. "We make sacrifices like everyone else."

But not everyone gets to go to work in a bikini.

Even the men wear tight-fitting gear that looks as though it's been sprayed on. And perhaps that is one of the reasons a lot of people still don't take the game seriously.

The critics believe it's all about cheap thrills, of seeing women and men getting hot and sweaty on the beach.

Holly McPeak
Holly McPeak says a medal is a "dream come true"

But Youngs is having none of it.

"We are athletic girls," she said. "Walking in the sand is difficult enough, so we have to train hard to do what we do."

And does the glory of winning an Olympic medal compare favourably with the financial rewards on offer every week on the pro circuit?

Holly McPeak, who partnered Youngs to bronze, described being on the podium as a "dream come true".

"I'm not a big trophies person but I'll probably put the medal on show where everyone can see it," she added.

She'll have to wait another four years to win another one. In the meantime, McPeak and co will have to content themselves with cold, hard cash.

Links to more Volleyball stories



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