Every four years the Summer Olympic Games seem to capture the imagination of the American public and it’s the strangest thing – folks who normally wouldn’t be engaged by a 100 meter sprint on a track or a 4X100 swimming medley in a pool are suddenly glued to their TV sets awaiting the next semifinal heat and getting to know these athletes we call “world class.”
And for a few weeks, we all seemingly stand at attention of the balance beam or the high dive podium. But then, almost like clockwork and presidential elections, most of these sports go back into a four-year hibernation in the minds and hearts of the American public.
Some of these major international sports – like soccer or basketball – are well engrained in every facet of American life and already have a huge clamoring for the athletes who makes tens of millions of dollars “playing” their game as a vocation and not a hobby. And then there are the weightlifters and badminton players who wallow in relative obscurity, even during the Olympic Games themselves as an agate type or a footnote on the TV broadcast.
But after watching parts of beach volleyball games over the first week of the Olympic Games and seeing the social media stream talking about the once-again dominant performance of Misty May-Treanor & Kerri Walsh Jennings I’m starting to think twice about whether this is the one “niche” sport that could become far more mainstream in America in the coming decade.
At WNST, we took phone calls on it. Folks were tweeting us about it. And it almost made you want to buy a ticket and watch these girls – and yes, even the fellows – play sometime soon.
Back in May when the Preakness was in Baltimore, the tour stopped at the Inner Harbor. I even met Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers during the Alibi Breakfast at Old Hilltop. I felt some of the presence of players and fans as I walked through the downtown area. It was a buzz, albeit a relatively small one. There are beach volleyball courts literally three blocks from where I live and I see folks playing socially most weeknights. And let’s be honest, everyone has played some volleyball at a picnic once or twice or in Ocean City.
You don’t have to know much about the sport to realize there’s certainly something incredibly compelling about these two female phenoms, who have written the Babe Ruth-like first chapter in the history of the sport.
May-Treanor & Walsh Jennings have now struck gold over the past three Olympics but can the sport catch on beyond their Olympic appearances, which act as a P.R. machine for whatever it will grow into and become in America? And not just on the far sexier women’s side of the net.
And, yes, I did mention the sex. Beach volleyball has certainly got sex appeal – again on both sides of the nets — with tall, bronze, sculpted athletes and the not-easily won over crowds in London via Brasil were large and enthusiastic.
Really, it was amazing to see what a tough ticket the beach volleyball games were and how the sport has evolved into a theatrical production – borrowing elements of NBA dancers, loud popular music and riveting athletes who pump the crowd up