So on Tuesday it was Beach Volleyball. Now, I have to say that my previous exposure to beach volleyball has been the occasional three minute interlude while channel surfing. And it basically appeared to be people lunging around in the sand, and occasionally jumping at the net. And not to deny that lumbering around in soft sand for an hour isn’t a lot of work—it undoubtedly is. But there are always some wags who will wonder, “Is it athletic?” Say, as opposed to what the rowers have to do, or the handball players (more on this later), or, good lord, the gymnasts. Well, no, not in the same way, although I have no doubt that if I were in a pickup game against the Brazilians, I’d be lucky to get a point. Still, that means nothing. I imagine there are some nuances to the game that passed me by, and I have to say the serving was highly erratic—lots of balls powered directly into the net by all teams, but especially by the men—and none of it looked that hard. Looks can be deceiving, of course.
Because it didn’t matter one bit. What it was was a big party for 15,000 people in the stands, with dancing girls, lots of music over the sound system, an announcer who kept us clapping, and generally high spirits all around. The event itself was almost incidental. Are they all like this? Yes, we all did pay attention to the games, or matches, or whatever they’re called, and applauded roundly for all teams when called upon to do so. It’s clearly a party event. And the resemblance to professional wrestling in this regard is not, I’m sure, accidental. It’s supposed to be a party.
Which was fine by me, and Mrs W, and everyone else in the stands, apparently. Especially since the predicted rain in fact did not materialize while we were there—although it did rain some in the afternoon. We arrived a little after 9, after the first match had begun, so we decided to skip that and wander around. The event itself is being held on Horse Guards Parade, right behind Downing Street, right off the Mall—a lovely area full of plane and beech trees. And we saw a sand sculptor hard at work. There were several of these, quite ambitious ones, actually. Lots of food stalls, many with good old British food, and good coffee, and it wasn’t cheap at all, but really, who cares? Getting in was a breeze, security was efficient and quick, and transportation, as it has been throughout the week, has been straightforward and, interestingly enough, not at all crowded.
So into the stands, and we’re way up top—we got the cheap seats, figuring that would improve the odds of actually getting tickets to something, anything. Visibility is fine, and brought the binoculars anyway, just in case—but only used them once or twice. And it’s a perfect venue—from where we were sitting we saw much of Whitehall, Big Ben, the London Eye—a wonderful backdrop. So I got out the glasses and scanned rooftops to check out security—and there wasn’t any. Or any that I could see. What I did see was one guy on one roof doing something or other—so up came the glasses for a closer look, and he was…painting. Just as Britain had Official War Artists, they’ve apparently got Official Olympic Artists. And the whole morning session, he was up there, painting away. Cool.
The matches were fun. The men’s match we saw was Brazil and Switzerland, and Brazil was fairly dominant throughout, winning in two whatever they are. Aside from the regularity of Brazilian excellent shotmaking, or simply their better luck, the match suffered, I imagine in some eyes, from the fact that the men had their long uniforms on—sweats, but pretty snug ones. Still, I imagine there were some in the audience who were disappointed.
This was not a problem, if that’s the word, with the women’s matches. First up, Spain and Argentina, in which again there was a dominant party—Spain, to my surprise. My image of this sport is of South American powerhouses—but if Argentina is a powerhouse, Spain is more of one. 2-0. The second pairing was much more interesting–Brazil and Germany. My, these ladies looked fit. It’s funny, though—after the men, they all look short from the 45th row. They’re not, of course. The German ladies each are 1.8 meters tall—in American that’s 5’11”.
This was the only match with some tension, because the two were very close. Brazil won the first game, 21-19. Germany won the second, fighting off nine or ten match points to do it, 31-29. And then Brazil managed a couple of sneaky plays top win the third, 15-13. Everyone was into this match, and at the beginning, most of the cheering was for Brazil, as you might expect—but by the end, the cheering was pretty even. They allot one hour for each pair—this went for more than an hour, and was great fun to watch. Lots of lunging and diving, and neither team really bothered to do much of that little flick of the back of their shorts with their fingers that seems to generate great interest among men. Since this match, each team has won their second and third matches, and both seem set to move on to the elimination rounds, so they could meet again.
Then off to work, through various busy parts of London, but mainly busy with people here for the Olympics, carrying their Olympic paraphernalia and the tube maps. It sounds as if half of London has cleared out, to listen to the commentators—the stores are empty on Oxford Street, and one of the stallholders I buy from weekly at Borough Market said that last weekend was the worst weekend in years. David Cameron told people today to go out and shop. Well, I imagine there’s some of that. More to the point, I suspect that everyone is just home watching the games on television—we’ve got a number of channels, remember, to do that on. Certainly no one is getting much work done in my office—no one is trading anything, and even though we’re in the middle of earnings season, normally a busy time, it all seems a bit relaxed these days. Britain knows how to do this stuff—between the Jubilee earlier this year and the Olympics now, London has turned into the place to be. Well, it’s a darn good thing I’m already here.
And tonight it was off to handball, which was great. That’s for tomorrow, though.