Special | By Wong Chun Wai

It’s hot, hot, hot at the beach

THE downside after watching the grand opening of the Olympic Games is that you now have to be content with watching the qualifying stage of most of the events, where the excitement is not quite at the pulsating stage.

For most of us who believe that Malaysia can only win medals in badminton and our fervent hope is that this is the Olympics where we will finally clinch our first-ever gold medal there are no real options for us to cheer for anyone else.

With only a few days left to spare in London, and without the press credentials that would have allowed me free access to all the events, my friends and I decided early on that beach volleyball must be on our must-watch list.

It is certainly a brilliant choice as the tickets are apparently the most sought-after for the Games. While the organisers may be worried about empty stands at some sports, beach volleyball is playing to sell-out crowds daily.

Even Paul McCartney and Prince Harry are reported to have snapped up tickets for the matches which are being played at the Horse Guards Parade, located on the Prime Minister's doorstep in central London.

The parade ground lies at the heart of London's ceremonial life and still hosts the Trooping of the Colour event that takes place on the Queen's official birthday each year.

The temporary arena has a capacity similar to Wimbledon's Centre Court. Interesting enough, a total of 5,000 tonnes of sand was being brought in from a quarry in Godstone, Surrey, to create the capital's very own “beach”.

When you are there, you really feel the presence of No 10, Downing Street, Buckingham Palace, the Big Ben and the London Eye in the backdrop.

But these scenic spots are not likely to be real reasons why many of us have bought tickets for a sport few of us have ever seen up close and personal.

Dubbed the sexiest sport, there are plenty of good reasons why many Londoners, the group of us Malaysians, and we presume the rest of the world, want to watch the matches.

For a start, the women players are in bikinis. The sun has been kind almost daily despite earlier weather forecasts that the weather may turn chilly and the players may have to cover up.

There are no other events in London where pop music is blaring out from the huge loudspeakers in between points and during the players' break.

And there are dancers, in skimpy beachwear, gyrating their hips and even rolling suggestively in the sand, as part of the routine. So there can never be a boring moment at the matches.

In fact, one suspects that the spectators look forward to these breaks more than when the games are in progress. No wonder the UK press has aptly described the atmosphere as “sexually charged”.

Those of us who love popular music will enjoy the music break as the Queen's We Will Rock You is played every few minutes and the fans are encouraged to stomp their feet and clap their hands in unison.

From Mas Que Nada the samba-inspired song from Black Eyed Peas to LMFAO's Party Rock Anthem, the sporting spectators are always on their feet, dancing away to the music being played during the breaks.

And the announcer is practically playing the role of a disc jockey, giving witty comments and sometimes, the crowd is asked to dance to the Conga beat of the Miami Sound Machine.

It doesn't seem like a competitive sport at all; it's more like a beach party, where plenty of booze is being passed around.

Volunteers are placed among the spectators to engage with them and even cajole them to dance. Occasionally, handsome hunks are seen chasing after blondes to the theme song of the classic comedy TV show of Benny Hill, another British icon.

Beach volleyball, which was introduced only at the Atlanta Games in 1996, is fast gaining the “resentment” of indoor volleyball players. One newspaper reported that “with the skimpy outfits, the glamorous sun-and-sand backdrop, beach volleyball has been attracting more than its share of the limelight.”

Interestingly, the BBC has reported about the many empty seats at indoor volleyball games. Soldiers, teachers and students have been invited to fill up these empty seats to save the organisers the embarrassment.

Beach volleyball is certainly more newsy. According to an interactive survey by the Metro newspaper, most men would prefer to go on a date with a beach volleyball player than any other athlete.

One in two males would like to take the famous scantily clad athletes for dinner. Women, on the other hand, prefer a date with a tennis player.

So it comes as no surprise that beach volleyball has been given extensive coverage by the BBC.

I think my colleague from our sports desk, S. Ramaguru, who is covering the Games primarily from the Malaysian angle, is missing out on one of the best parts of the Games.

Oh yes, the beach volleyball games only begin at 2.30pm, which means the fans need not wake up early! And I am sure Malaysians back home find the time just about right for them to watch the games live.