LONDON — The London Olympics beach volleyball tournament is being played at the Horse Guards Parade grounds, one of the iconic venues of the Olympics and one that brings together the past and the present.
The Horse Guards Parade dates back to 1745. It takes its name from the soldiers who have provided protection for the monarch since 1660. It is seen as the heart of London’s ceremonial life and still hosts an impressive display of pageantry every year on the Queen’s official birthday.
But during the Olympics, sand, volleyball nets and women in brief bikini swimsuits are on display for the beach volleyball event.
American Misty May-Treanor, who with partner Kerri Walsh, has won the last two women’s beach volleyball gold medals, thinks it is fitting.
“As far as bringing new and old together, that is our sport. If you look at us like new players coming in, old players, you want to mesh the two. And I think that is what the site symbolizes is generations intermixing and meshing,” she said.
American April Ross, half of the other U.S. women’s beach volleyball duo, thinks having the clash of cultures was a great idea.
“I think the clash is going to bring people in. They are going to want to see it, and that is why the event is so popular. And hopefully we gain lifetime fans because they truly appreciate it once they see it. But we feel so blessed to be playing there. It is such a historic site, and I think we got the best location of the entire Olympics,” Ross said.
The women’s field at these Olympics, according to May-Treanor, is strong throughout.
“It is great to see the world of beach volleyball growing the way it has, and it has grown tremendously worldwide. If you look at the tournaments leading up to these Games there’s been such parity amongst the different winners. So you can see how the game is growing and that is what us as athletes want,” May-Treanor said.
Of course that will make it more difficult for May-Treanor and Walsh to win an unprecedented third gold medal. The two have been a team since 2001. They both stepped away from the sport for a couple of years after winning at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but May-Treanor said they have enjoyed playing together again.
“For me it is coming to an end after this event. This is my last event. You know, for us it is about the journey. It is about the hard work. It is putting in the extra hours. But we are really excited to be here together again,” May-Treanor said.
May-Treanor says since Beijing the style of play in beach volleyball has even changed, but they have adapted. What she finds hard now is hearing ages announced at tournaments before she plays. She celebrated her 35th birthday Monday in London and Walsh is 34. Many of their opponents are 21 and 22 - like the American pair was when they started out in the sport.
And there has even been a major rule change. Only two months before the London Games, the International Olympic Committee changed the rules so that women do not have to wear bikinis. A number of culturally conservative countries had lobbied for that.
Jen Kessy, one of the other U.S. women’s beach volleyball players in London, backs the change.
“We actually think it is a great thing for the sport. We want women of all different religions and everywhere from across the world to be able to play our sport, and to not be able to play because of the attire is not okay for us. So the fact that they can wear more modest gear is something great,” Kessy said.
The men beach volleyball players, of course, do not have to worry about such things. And they do not get nearly the attention either. But Beijing gold medalist Phil Dalhausser of the United States, at a joint news conference with the women, told reporters he does not care.
“I am perfectly okay with it. They are way prettier than us, so I do not blame you guys for wanting to talk to them,” Dalhausser said.
Dalhausser, along with partner Todd Rogers, are trying to duplicate their gold medal achievement from Beijing, just like Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh. But all four said since they have already gotten their gold, they do not feel as much pressure and are able to enjoy the experience of London Olympics.