Alex Chick

Beach volleyball supplies booze and cheers

Alex Chick

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The powerful wave of alcohol fumes that hits you when you enter the Horse Guards Parade stadium during a beach volleyball night session tells you this is no ordinary Olympic crowd.

It is quite possible that more booze is consumed at the beach volleyball than every other Olympic event combined, judging by the endless conveyor belt of £4.50 pints into the arena.

I joined the fray at about 9.30pm last night, by which stage the organised fun was already in full effect.

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Within two minutes, a massive stage-managed conga was staggering tipsily down the aisles.

The announcers at most Olympic sports are there to help spectators understand and appreciate the sport better.

Not at the beach volleyball. Hot on the heels of the conga, the PA guy encouraged the crowd to sing the 'Da-da-da' bit of the Proclaimers' I Would Walk 500 Miles - "For the whole of the next point!"

The poor players were no longer elite athletes, but mere egg-timers for drunken sing-alongs.

They were just a backdrop for the consumption of post-work drinks.

A bit like at the darts or a Twenty20 cricket match, you know there's some sport on - it's just not the real reason you're here.

As far as the actual competition went, the audience participation consisted mainly of booing Germany's men against Switzerland - because that's what well-oiled Brits do.

Germany won their game, not that anyone really noticed, and it was on to the women - the Czech Republic's Kristyna Kolocova and Marketa Slukova versus Nat Cook and Tamsin Hinchley, a raucously-supported Australian pair.

The word 'pair' would normally prompt some cheap innuendo in most beach volleyball articles, but not this time - there was nearly a riot when the teams emerged wearing bodysuits instead of skimpy bikinis.

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Fortunately, the angry mob got distracted by the OTT introductions of the X-Factor's Pete Dickson - whose presence prompted one cluster of fans to spend a good half-hour shouting: "IT'S TIME! TO FACE!! THE MUSIC!!!"

If that joke was funny once, it was funny a hundred times.

The main announcer (not X-Factor guy, another one) egged this silliness on, and generally acted like a Club 18-30 rep.

As the only sober man in the building, it is natural I found myself less jollified than others in attendance.

Beach volleyball knows its job at the Olympics is to provide an interesting setting for al fresco carousing.

Though it must be immensely frustrating for competitors to see their sport do everything to distract viewers from actual play, it performs its role well, and there's no doubt almost everyone there last night had great fun.

But does it really belong in the Olympics? Many find it hard to take the sport seriously when it does so much to undermine its own credibility.

If fun value alone is enough to earn Olympic status, will we see Total Wipeout medals handed out in Rio?

That debate aside, beach volleyball has been a huge success in its remarkable setting smack in the middle of London.

It is the only venue within walking distance of thousands of people's workplaces and has helped connect Londoners to the Olympics.

Talking to some foreign Eurosport colleagues this week about the effect of the Games on the capital, one offered a stark assessment: "London doesn't care at all. You wouldn't know the Olympics was on at all."

In the centre of town last night, I saw his point.

True, there were pink London 2012 signs everywhere, plus a smattering of people holding sponsors' logos aloft, Golf Sale-style, but fundamentally it was business as usual.

It wasn't so much that London didn't care, as London had stuff to do. The Olympics are great, but people still want to get home from work, do the shopping or go for a pint.

London is a city of eight million people, a minority of whom are going to see even one session of Olympic sport. It has large foreign-born and transient populations.

Also, there's a lot going on. Every day, hundreds of thousands go to theatre performances, music gigs, museums and art exhibitions.

That does not all stop just because the Olympics are in town. The Games were never going to take over the city as they did in, say, Sydney. Some may view that as a weakness on London's part. I think it is a strength.

HORSE GUARDS PARADE - VENUE SCOREBOARD

ACCESSIBILITY/FACILITIES: 9/10 - It couldn't be any more central. The stadium itself is well-stocked with food stalls and, of course, bars.

VIEW: 8/10 - The temporary stands offer a perfectly good survey of what is going on, and there is a magnificent view of Whitehall and the London Eye. It is sometimes difficult with the naked eye to tell whether a ball has landed in or out on the sand. The incessant music, chatter and silliness can be distracting, too.

FANS: 7/10 - The 'beer snake' brigade. They were numerous, noisy and very enthusiastic. On the other hand, they showed little interest in the sport itself. Very different from the crowds at any other sport.

SPECTACLE: 6/10 - Again, it depends what you want. If extra-curricular nonsense is your bag, it was great. But as a presentation of an Olympic (and we therefore presume serious) sport, it was wholly lacking, and a little disrespectful to the players. Or maybe that's just the sober talking.

X-FACTOR: 6/10 - It tried so hard for an X-Factor, it got the bloke who does the voiceovers. Again, it was tremendous fun, but for me it crossed the line between sport and entertainment. Great for post-work drinks, not for the Olympics.

TOTAL SCORE: 36/50 - raucous

Other venues rated
North Greenwich Arena (gymnastics): 39/50 - complex
Aquatics Centre: 38/50 - noisy
Basketball Arena: 36/50 - slick
Lee Valley White Water Centre: 36/50 - thrilling
Box Hill (road race cycling): 35/50 - rural
Riverbank Arena: 32/50 - temporary
ExCel (weightlifting): 31/50 - functional

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Alex Chick will be writing from London 2012 throughout the Olympic Games.

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