USA Volleyball opens training facility for beach volleyball
American beach volleyball players are hoping that their new training center will help them compete with the host Brazilians when the Summer Olympics arrive on the South American sand.
In a warehouse owned by 1963 Indy 500 winner Parnelli Jones, USA Volleyball has set up 4,000 square feet of weights and workout machines exclusively for elite beach volleyball athletes in Torrance, California.
There's also access to trainers and physical therapists, plus a strength and conditioning coach. Another 11,000 square feet of office space allowed the federation to move its beach operations on-site.
After years of feeling like an afterthought within a national governing body long controlled by indoor volleyball, beach athletes say the new center could help put even more Americans on the podium at the Summer Games and other international events.
''The facility is so rad,'' said Kerri Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic gold medalist who in the past has campaigned for more support for the sandy side of the sport.
''The weight room is first class, top-rate. Physical therapy staff just fantastic,'' she said in a telephone interview this week. ''We have all the resources to be a dominant federation. It really is what the sport deserves. It's nice to see USA Volleyball and the USOC step up.''
Beach volleyball players started working out at the facility since 2014, using limited equipment - some of it donated by the USOC and the University of Southern California. Since then, it has been upgraded with specialized equipment and a full-time athletic trainer, a strength and conditioning coach shared with USA Water Polo and the main offices of USA Volleyball's beach division.
An open house at the training center was planned for Friday night, when the Olympic banners were to be unveiled.
''I don't know if I ever expected to see something like this happen when I was playing,'' said April Ross, a silver medalist in London in 2012 who is teamed up with Walsh Jennings in an attempt to qualify for the Rio Games. ''This is a huge deal for us.''
Lauren Fendrick, a member of the top-rated U.S. team in the Olympic qualification standings, said that teams used to be on their own to find a place to work out and the proper support, like physical therapists, trainers and strength coaches.
''It's really nice that we can get a lot of it done right there in that one place, focusing on that one goal,'' said her teammate, Brooke Sweat. ''No one's in there messing around.''
One thing it doesn't have: beach volleyball courts. Yet.
''They're having baby steps,'' Ross said.
Beach volleyball traces its roots to California, and the American men and women have won nine of a total 30 Olympic medals since the sport was added to the Summer Games in 1996. (Only Brazil, which will host the 2016 Games, has more, with 11.)
But back home, the U.S. beach players have struggled to find support with an unstable domestic pro tour and a national federation that seemed to make the more traditional court volleyball a priority.
After winning her second straight Olympic gold medal in Beijing, Walsh Jennings was part of an athletes' movement fighting for more resources from USA Volleyball. Those efforts led to the creation of a beach office within the governing body, and she said the opening of their own training facility is another step forward.
''We're truly our own individual sport. And now we have people in USAV backing that up,'' she said. ''I feel like with any new emerging sport you have to prove your worth, and we've done that. Whatever happened in the past: Who cares? We've all learned and grown. They have the right people in place, and that's such a big part of it.''
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