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ATHENS 2004

Culture Clash in the Sand

Bikinied dancers provide quite a backdrop at beach volleyball matches. McPeak and Youngs win again.

August 17, 2004|Alan Abrahamson | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — These were the Games sold to the International Olympic Committee as a return to the roots, to the values and idealism nurtured in Greece that have sustained the Olympic movement, ancient and modern, since 776 BC.

And then there's the party that is beach volleyball.

In a culture clash that seems even more pronounced as the IOC and Athens 2004 organizers reverentially gear up for the shotput Wednesday on the ancient grounds at Olympia, the beach volleyball scene here at the seashore includes a dance troupe that gets its groove on, to driving rock and roll, between points.

Of course, the dancers are all female. Of course, they're wearing bikinis -- silver, trimmed with blue. Urging the near-capacity crowd to give it up for the young women, the on-scene DJ howled, "They've been dancing up a storm all night!"

In between the dancing, they played some beach volleyball Monday -- all day, well into the night, even into this morning. In a match that began after 11 p.m. Monday and ended after midnight, Americans Holly McPeak and Elaine Youngs all but assured themselves of advancing to the quarterfinals, beating Canadians Guylaine Dumont and Annie Martin, 21-13, 12-21, 15-9. The victory improved the U.S. tandem's record in the preliminary round to 2-0.

Youngs hammered home several kills in the third game to seal the win, after a sluggish second game.

"I did my job in the third game, and I need to do more of that," she said.

The other U.S. women's team, Kerri Walsh and Misty May, play their second match today in the preliminary rounds, taking on Rebekka Kadijk and Marrit Leenstra of Holland. Walsh and May are 1-0. On the men's side, Dax Holdren and Stein Metzger, winners Sunday in their first match, play today against Iver Horrem and Bjorn Maaseide of Norway.

In men's action Monday, the other U.S. men's team, Jeff Nygaard and Dain Blanton, was effectively eliminated with a second loss in the preliminaries, to Canadians John Child and Mark Heese, 21-16, 21-10.

To their credit, the dancing girls kept their shtick going past midnight as well -- though fatigue had to be a consideration after shaking and shimmying through a tough three-game match, immediately before Youngs and McPeak took the court, between Australian and Greek women's teams.

The Aussies, Summer Lochowicz and 2000 gold medalist Kerri Pottharst, dashed the home crowd's hopes, defeating Efi Sfyri and Vasso Karadassiou, 21-15, 15-21, 16-14.

Even so, the near-capacity crowd did rise as one and carry on in the aisles as the young women shimmied to "YMCA." The song also inspired simultaneous flag waving -- American, Canadian, Quebecois, Portuguese, Greek, German, Finnish, even one green and white Saudi Arabian flag.

"To me, what's happening off the court, I don't care," Pottharst said. "It doesn't bother me. They can have people streaking through, for all I care."

As McPeak and Youngs were warming up, the dancers were boogying near the court. Youngs said a ball might have bonked one or two of the young women.

"It's tough," she said when asked about sharing the stage at the Olympics with females wearing bikinis as a different sort of uniform. "It gets people in the venues. At the AVP," the Assn. of Volleyball Professionals, which oversees the U.S. pro tour, "it's a big party. But at the Olympics it's a tough call. I've struggled with it."

Lochowicz said, "It's a bit degrading to our sport." But, she sighed, "Sex sells."

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