Olympics: Beach Volleyball

PUBLISHED: 01:21 04 June 2012 | UPDATED: 21:27 20 February 2013

Denise and Lucy run workshops at The Yellowave Beach Centre in Brighton

Denise and Lucy run workshops at The Yellowave Beach Centre in Brighton

Beach volleyball came of age in the 1920s but wasn't included in the Olympics until 1996. Stephanie Temple speaks to GB player Denise Johns, who plays and runs workshops at the Yellowave Beach Centre in Brighton...

Next month, London will host the biggest sporting event for over a generation. GB beach volleyball player Denise Johns, 33, is still waiting for final confirmation at the end of June that she will be representing her country on the world stage.

When the press decide to feature beach volleyball, it is more common than not to see images of scantily clad women in two piece lycra suits with bronzed skin, splashed across the pages. More spectators watched beach volleyball at the Athens Games than any other sport and its popularity is soaring all over the world.However, if you take the time to scratch the surface, there is so much more to this game than just the athletic bodies of the players.

Unlike normal volleyball, where two teams of six spike and bump their way to victory, in the sand version of the game only two players make up a team and they have to be in tune with each other from start to finish in order be the first to 21 points. In the summer there are two medal events that we can watch and 96 athletes taking part in the sport, but before we look forward to July and Horse Guards Parade, lets look back to where it all started for this exciting game...

Beach volleyball came of age in the 1920s when jazz was sweeping the nation and Europe was finally free after the horrors of World War I. On the golden beaches of Santa Monica, beach volleyball was born and since then its appeal has spread far and wide so much so that when the Beatles visited the legendary Sorrento Beach in the 60s, they took a break from the studio and decided they wanted to have a go!

The first Beach Volleyball World Championships took place in 1976 but it wasnt until 20 years later, at the Atlanta Games of 1996, that the sport was included on the Olympic programme. As expected, the Americans have dominated the sport, winning over half of the eight gold medals since Atlanta and they are the favourites to walk away again with the haul of medals in London.

The rules are not complicated; the first team of two to get to 21 points wins the game. After the serve, each team is allowed three touches of the ball before it must cross over the net to their opponents. Matches are best of three sets and the winners then progress to the next stages of the tournament.

Denise Johns and her partner Lucy Boulton have played together since 2006 and have their eyes firmly fixed on a podiam finish this summer. Denise started playing when she was 12 and carried on all the way through university, moving to California and playing on the AVP (Association of Volleyball Professionals) tour, before meeting Lucy and teaming up to represent Great Britain six years ago.

Both ladies have excelled in the sport and are now household names. They recently beat the number one Chinese team in two straight sets at the Olympic test event at Horse Guards Parade. The Chinese won bronze in Beijing and were ranked number two in the world when Johns and Boulton sent them packing off the sand and they hope they can build on this in a few months time. "It was a clinical match and we executed the game plan perfectly. The crowd gave us so much adrenaline that Lucy even did a cartwheel on the court!" explains Denise with a smile on her face.

The Yellowave Beach Centre in Brighton only opened five years ago and is the only official 20102 training base in the city. It has become a frequent haunt for Denise and Lucy. The two athletes have played there and also run clinics and workshops for visitors to the club. Manager Katie Mintram says: "Denise and Lucy are loved by our members. They always have time to stop and chat as well as sign the odd autograph. Were very lucky to have them come to us and everyone here hopes that this is their year to win the gold."

When the club opened, 1200 tonnes of sand from Kent were shipped in to make the courts and in order to meet the requirements of the IOC, samples of the sand were sent to Canada for it to be officially checked. To really appreciate this sport, you have to see past the sand and the competition kit, as Denise explains: "Beach volleyball is an interesting and demanding sport displaying conviction and emotion. Ive been watching matches at the Brazilian Open and have been amazed at the power, explosiveness, skill and stamina teams need to get through just one round. Its an ever-changing sport thats loved all over the world."

There never seems to be enough money backing so-called minority sports like beach volleyball. "I think that this country will love the sport once they embrace it. Anyone can play if they have access to a patch of grass or a beach. Its such an easy sport to get involved with and I think Great Britain could be one of the strongest beach volleyball programmes in the world given more funding," says Denise.

Mr Cameron will have one of the best views of the action in July but everyone will be able to marvel at the speed, power and intelligence of these athletes on their TV. Who knows, perhaps the Wimbledon effect will take hold and have us all flocking to the Yellowave Centre to learn the spike before the summers over?

Did you know?

  • 3,000 tonnes of sand will be used on the courts at Horse Guardsthis summer

  • The events will be held from 28 July to 9 August

  • A beach volleyball weighs between 260 and 280 grams and is made of synthetic leather

For more information on how to get involved with beach volleyball locally, please visit www.yellowave.co.uk or call Katie Mintram on 01273 672222

Denise married Jody Gooding, a member of the mens GB team, last year

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