Olympic beach volleyball returns to 'spiritual home' in Rio de Janeiro as players face sultry conditions
By By Kevin Byrne, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
August 17, 2016, 6:17:26 AM EDT
While there has been much consternation about the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the host city appears to be a perfect location for the sport of beach volleyball.
While the game originated in the United States, the white sands of famed Copacabana Beach have been called the sport’s “spiritual home,” and the rabid volleyball fans in Brazil are helping transform each match at the 12,000-seat Beach Volleyball Arena into a raucous beach party.
This is the first time beach volleyball competitions will be held on a natural beach since the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
"That's how we prefer it. We love a little wind, the hot sun, just those little elements that a beach brings," Jake Gibb, a member of Team USA's men's beach volleyball team, said prior to the games.
In 2012, the London Olympics featured a makeshift beach volleyball court at Horse Guards Parade in the middle of the city. The weather also proved to be cooler than expected, and many players decided to wear long-sleeve clothing or bodysuits rather than traditional bikinis or tank tops and shorts.
According to Corinne Calabro, a spokesperson for Team USA beach volleyball, moderate temperatures, little to no wind and low humidity make up the best weather conditions for competitions. She added that the Southern California climate provides ideal training conditions for Team USA.
To perform at their best while enduring long periods of play out in the hot sun, it's important for members of Team USA to stay properly hydrated, while also maintaining their conditioning and physical fitness program.
Also, beach volleyball matches are not postponed for rain, so athletes must prepare for a slippery ball and firmer sand if showers move through Rio. However, if lightning is nearby or the court starts to flood, then a delay or postponement is likely.
"Eventually, you practice or play enough in the rain in your career you know what you need to adjust. That may be moving from a hand set to a bump set," Calabro said.
The sport does have protocol where if an athlete is uncomfortable playing, they can tell the referee to halt play.
For the U.S. women’s beach volleyball team of April Ross and Kerri Walsh Jennings, windier conditions could prove to be a benefit, especially for Ross, considered by many to be the top server in the world.
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“The more wind that they have, the more effective that team will play because of April Ross’ serve, it’s so dynamic,“ said Al-B Hannemann, founder and CEO of the National Volleyball League.
"The more wind you get, the more effective her serve is because the ball drops as you hit it into the wind. And [Ross is] already the best server in the world."
The sand in Rio is not as deep as it was in London, so that should make for more dynamic play as competitors run, jump and dive all over the court.
It should also be a benefit to smaller teams because they are able to be more physical and challenge bigger blockers at the net, according to Hannemann, an 18-year beach volleyball veteran.
Since Team USA trains in Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach, California, they are comfortable in the heat and have historically done well in it, according to Calabro. However, some players, including Walsh Jennings and Ross, have actually avoided the hot daytime conditions by playing at midnight and 9 p.m. local time.
The final day of beach volleyball in Rio is scheduled for Aug. 18, when the men’s gold medal match will be held. The women's final will take place the day before.
Heat will build through midweek in Rio, with possible showers on Tuesday.
Regardless of the how the conditions play out, it won't affect players mentally, according to Hannemann.
"They’re all dealing with the same elements good or bad, it’s just certain athletes are a little bit more dynamic in certain types of weather," Hannemann said.
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