Volleyball's itsy-bitsy, uh, uniforms bring smiles

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 20, 2008 - 9:12 AM

The joy and, yes, the sex appeal are a welcome burst of fun. All that's missing are Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon.

It was China vs. China on Tuesday in beach volleyball as Tian Jia spiked the ball past Xue Chen. Tian and Jie Wang beat Xue and Zhang Xi.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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BEIJING - In an oversized sandbox in Beijing Tuesday morning, four women in tiny bikinis jumped around as a DJ screamed over dance music, fans drank beer, Chinese cheered for imperialist Americans and a couple dozen cheerleaders danced suggestively.

It's modern China, just as Chairman Mao envisioned it.

The most common cheer at these Olympics is the Chinese equivalent of "Add fuel." At Chaoyang Park Beach Volleyball Ground, it's more about adding lotion.

Here's what to love about beach volleyball: everything.

There's the beach part, which is great because it's a portable beach. This is a good idea, that you can play beach volleyball in Omaha or a park in Beijing. This is democracy in action.

There's the volleyball part, which is OK, because without the volleyball, beach volleyball would be just a bunch of almost-naked people rolling around on the sand.

Which brings us to the best part of beach volleyball: almost-naked people rolling around on the sand.

This is the only sport where the athletes wear less than the cheerleaders. Except for maybe hockey.

The cheerleaders are a group of women from the Canary Islands that the Olympic Beach Volleyball Cheerleader Acquisition Committee (I just made that name up) have hired to work at the past two Olympics (that part is true).

The cheerleaders wear a variety of bikinis and one-pieces that apparently got caught in the wood chipper from that scene in "Fargo." They're tanned to a nice orange glow, and they dance around during breaks while some of the fans notice that play has stopped.

Yes, the cheerleaders wear more than the athletes. Thank God Pat Williams hasn't heard about this.

We're talking about women's beach volleyball, because men's beach volleyball exists only because of Title IX. Or the Equal Rights Amendment.

Have we mentioned the women? The first time I saw beach volleyball live, last week, the players were wearing tiny, tight bikinis the general size and shape, but not the density, of fortune cookies.

The second time I saw a beach volleyball match, the women were wearing bikinis the same size, only now most of the fabric was mesh.

Ventilated bikinis: For those days when your goose-down bikini is just too warm.

Beach volleyball is not just about sex appeal. It's only mostly about sex appeal. It's also about wonderful athletes playing a game that -- and this violates the Olympic motto of "Every sport must cause pained facial expression'' -- is a lot of fun.

You've got the DJ playing the greatest hits of the '70s, '80s and today. You've got cheerleaders who look like they've dodged a few of Pacman Jones' bullets. You've got fans do the slow-motion wave (it's a California thing), working on their tans and get cooled by the Disney World-style misters.

The matches last less than an hour. There's a point won every 10 seconds or so. The athletes are explosive leapers with great coordination, skill, strength and conditioning. And if you're going to have race walking (it should be called restrictor-plate running) and badminton in the Olympics, how can you look down on beach volleyball?

You have to crane your neck to look up at Kerri Walsh, the world's best player. She's a 6-3 Californian (of course) with a pneumatic spike who covers more sand than a retiree with a metal detector.

She and her partner, Misty May-Treanor, will defend their Olympic gold in the final, today and when they have a medal draped around their necks, they will, by beach volleyball standards, suddenly be overdressed.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP.

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