- The Washington Times - Friday, August 20, 2004

ATHENS — Silence. The perkiest man in Greece is about to speak.


The perkiest man in Greece is also the loudest. By necessity. His name is Louis. He is the public address announcer at the Olympic beach volleyball center, where between each and every point, the loudspeakers crackle and thump. Dance tracks and stadium rock. Head banging and booty shaking. Whatever moves the crowd to, well, move.

“… so crazy in love …

“… it’s my life, it’s now or never …

“… we’re on a highway to hell!”


He could talk over a 757 liftoff, call a car-crushing monster truck rally and still have decibels left over for the n-n-nitro-burning funny cars. Louis, you see, projects.

“It has to be enthusiastic,” says Tom Blaumauer, an Austrian announcer who alternates shifts with Louis. “If you just say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome so-and-so,’ just say the score, it won’t work.

“You have to say, ‘FIVE-SIX, HE HAMMERS IT DOWN!’ Even if the match is boring, you have to keep it rocking.”

Leave the artsy hokum to the Opening Ceremony, the hushed reverence to the shot put at Ancient Olympia. Here on the white sand of the Falrio coastal zone, they always keep it rocking. In an Olympics dogged by doping scandals, empty seats and ongoing security worries, beach volleyball offers something else entirely.

A party.

A party with bikini-clad dancing girls.

But more on them later.

“There’s a lot of energy in the stadium,” says Marty Lehn, a coach with Canada’s baseball team, whose players are trickling in to catch afternoon and night matches.

“Everyone wanted to see this venue. The main attraction is the atmosphere. Maybe because it’s outside, with the sun, it’s a little more lively.”

• • •

A little more lively? That’s like saying Puerto Rico was a little bit better than the United States in their men’s basketball opener. Another song comes over the speaker — silly, empty, undeniably catchy. Even in Greece, it needs no translation.

Beach volleyball, we love to play

“Beach volleyball is here to stay

“Beach volleyball, we love the scene ….”

So: the scene. The beach volleyball center is the only place you’ll find a fan in a neon orange tank top, with a matching neon orange boa. The only place where journalists slather themselves in coconut oil before leaving the press room. The only place where the match referee, an Italian named Stefano Cesare, is introduced as “STEFANOOOO CE-SAR-EEE!” To thunderous applause.

In the stadium parking lot, armed guards sweep buses for explosives, running poles with mirrors under each vehicle. This seems like overkill: Half of the spectators on hand aren’t even wearing shirts. The same goes for a reporter on press row, who is either working on his tan or giving his back hair room to breathe.

John Courtney stands in the concession line, a mini-American flag tucked under his cap, Lawrence of Arabia style. He’s here from Miami, visiting his brother, taking in a few events. And he’s doing it on the cheap: 40 Euro judo tickets for 15; 35 Euro beach volleyball tickets for 20. Ah, scalpers.

“This, so far, has been the most fun,” Courtney says. “It’s 9 in the morning and people are having a blast, drinking, cheering. At judo, people were just waiting for their country to cheer.”


Born and raised in Southern California, beach volleyball brings a Manhattan Beach vibe wherever it goes. The sun, the surf, the blue skies. An ocean breeze. So much to take in: matches, dancing girls, other spectators, players stretching on the warmup courts behind the stadium.

The latter seems particularly popular.

“You’re by the beach,” says Michael Courtney, John’s brother and a admissions officer at NYU. “You just feel more at ease.”

A typical AVP tour stop is like a beer commercial incarnate. Organizers wanted the same feel in Athens. They imported the amped-up announcers, the disc jockeys spinning a mix of Justin Timberlake, Black Eyed Peas, samba music, the irritating theme from “Friends.”

Players were sent a questionnaire: What are your favorite songs? Brazil’s Emanuel wanted “Hey Ya!” America’s Jeff Nygaard went with Dave Matthews.

“Sometimes the songs aren’t that useful,” laments DJ Stari, an Austrian who spins tracks. “It’s hard rock. So we’ll play it for 15 seconds, and then back to the happy sounds.”

The happy sounds are contextual. American Misty May gets “Miss California.” Aces are followed by “U Can’t Touch This.” Blaumauer and DJ Stari exhort the crowd: Wave for “Hip-Hop Hooray.” Clap for “We Will Rock You.” Break out the cabbage patch for “Whoomp! There It Is.”

“There are maybe two or three hundred songs that everybody in the world knows,” Stari says. “We try to make a party for the people. Beach volleyball is associated with summer and holiday.”

He smiles.

“Dancing people are good pictures for the TV.”

Blaumauer yells over the din. Six days down, six to go. His throat may give. He keeps a bottle of tea and honey.

“And I have a bottle of Jack Daniels,” Stari says. He’s probably kidding.

• • •

The worst thing about Olympic beach volleyball? Sweden doesn’t have a women’s team in the tournament. The best thing about Olympic beach volleyball? Brazil has two.

This is the most democratic of sports. Check the draw: China, South Africa, Sweden (a men’s team, alas). All you need is a net and a ball, sand and a willing partner.

Plus, uniforms are cheap, at least from the standpoint of the fabric required.

The sea sparkles behind the bleachers. Brazil’s Shelda and Adriana against Cuba’s Larrea Peraza and Fernandez Grasset. Shelda waves to a large group of Brazilian fans, leading them in a rhythmic clap. Adriana grins. The two embrace after nearly every point. They high-five. Twice Shelda grabs Adriana’s head, nodding in unison. There’s more butt slapping than in an NFL huddle.

The Brazilian fans jump up and down, wave flags, shake tambourines, sing fight songs. Most are wearing stoplight yellow shirts. One gentleman sports a canary-coloed muscle suit and matching wig. A young woman’s miniscule bikini top appears painted on.

“They always do that,” says Carlos, a journalist from Brazil. “They’re crazy. Very exciting. This is one of the best chances for Brazil to win a gold medal.”

Funny, because victory seems secondary: After Cuba’s Peraza hammers home a spike, Stari plays “Whoomp! There It Is.” The Brazilians cabbage patch like no one’s watching.

During a changeover, a stadium volunteer appears to wet down the sidelines. He turns his garden hose on the fans, to the strains of “Splish-Splash.” Everyone gets wet.

“NBC doesn’t like wet T-shirt contests,” Stari says with a giggle. “Not after Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake.”

Don’t get the wrong idea: For the players, the sport can be demanding. Running on sand? Tough. Jumping on sand? Tougher still. And you can’t afford a bad day, because there’s only one teammate to cover your mistakes.

Beach volleyball requires strategy, too — players are constantly flashing hand signals to each other, behind their backs, just below the waist. Some things you pick up on pretty quickly.

Still, there’s an inherent joy to the game. Adriana grins after nearly every point. Nygaard played for the U.S. national indoor team for half a decade, then quit, utterly burned out. The beach brought him back.

“I like being able to determine when I practice,” he says. “I like having the freedom, not having somebody yelling at me, telling me I’m doing everything wrong.”

• • •


OK. The dancing girls. Here’s the deal: They’re from the Canary Islands, go by the name Personal Plus, which sounds like a high-class escort service. They wear neon bikinis, boogie during changeovers and timeouts. Truth be told, their routines are a bit rudimentary — a little jiggle, a little wiggle. No one seems to mind.

“We should have this at every venue,” says Marty Lehn.

“We should have guys,” says his wife, Hilary. “But not Speedos. Maybe briefs.”

Ogling is as much a part of beach volleyball as sets and spikes. That goes for both sexes. The male players are as fit as their female counterparts, and wear only a tad more clothing. The sport knows this, capitalizes on it: Walk into the venue press office, and the first thing you see is a bulletin board. Along the top are scores and schedules; along the bottom is a collage of clipped-out newspaper photos. All of players’ backsides.

Back in the stadium, the bikini dance team is taking a break, keeping cool in a courtside tunnel. Festive music starts to play. One of the girls begins to gyrate, perhaps to keep her hips loose.

“Wow,” says John Courtney. “They’re amazing. They’re not just good looking girls in bikinis. They’re good-looking girls in bikinis dancing for other good-looking girls in bikinis.”

The mind reels. Escher would approve. In one hand, Courtney holds a Heineken. In the other, a digital camera.

“Maybe I have 10 pictures,” he says. “Nine are of girls.”

A handful of female players, most notably from Australia, have carped that the dance team is offensive, a sexist distraction in an otherwise serious tournament. No objections from Team Netherlands, however, whose playing uniforms are skimpier — and more orange — than the dancer’s outfits.

“They shouldn’t be complaining,” Courtney says. “They’re playing on the beach.”

Speaking of beaches: Earlier this week, researchers predicted that European winters could disappear entirely by 2080, the result of rapid global warming. Should this come to pass, two things seem inevitable: More beach volleyball. And more women’s teams from Sweden. Do the math. The future looks bright.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide