Olympic beach volleyball preview
Sorry, old guard. Since its debut in the 1996 Olympics, this sandy, bathing-suit version of volleyball has surpassed its indoor cousin in popularity. Wonder if that has anything to do with the minimalist attire? In a sublime juxtaposition, these tanned, sunscreen-slathered athletes will leap and spike and dig in a venue set up ... on Horse Guard's Parade, an errant jump serve from the rear garden wall of 10 Downing Street, where the Prime Minister lives.
Both the men's and women's fields will be filled with 24 two-person teams, to be divided into six pools of four teams.
After round-robin play, the top two teams in each pool, plus the two best third-ranked teams, advance to a 16-team, single-elimination round. (The other third-place teams proceed to a "knockout round," with the best two making into the Round of 16, at which point the format becomes single elimination.)
Such is the depth of the American program that it wouldn't be surprising to see either the men's or women's No. 2 team -- Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal, and Jen Kessy and April Ross -- on the podium. Kessy and Ross are dark horses. Gibb and Rosenthal would be less of a surprise; they finished the season on an impressive roll, winning a pair of Grand Slam events. In both finals, they beat the top seeds from Brazil.
Showing sensitivity to different countries' cultural and religious beliefs, the International Volleyball Federation has announced new regulations stating that women are no longer required to compete in bikinis. Shorts and sleeved or sleeveless tops are now acceptable.