Beach volleyball: China, Brazil win as popularity soars

Wednesday, 1 August 2012 01:15 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

LONDON (Reuters): China’s Beijing bronze medallists put a nightmare start to the Olympic women’s beach volleyball behind them on Monday while the Brazilian favourites cruised to a second win as the sport’s popularity in Britain soared to new heights.

In the day’s finale, American Misty May-Treanor celebrated her 35th birthday with team mate Kerri Walsh as the double Olympic champions booked their place in the knockout phase with a 21-14 21-19 victory over the Czech Republic’s Marketa Slukova and Kristyna Kolocova, watched by several members of the U.S. men’s basketball team.

Zhang Xi and Xue Chen suffered the greatest upset of the tournament so far in their opener but after a nervous start finally got their campaign on track with a 21-18 16-21 15-8 win against Switzerland’s Simone Kuhn and Nadine Zumkehr.Germany’s Katrin Holtwick (L) tries to save the ball near her team mate Ilka Semmler during their women’s preliminary round beach volleyball match at the London 2012 Olympic Games at Horse Guards Parade – REUTERS

“This game was very important to us because we lost the first game and we needed confidence, we needed to find ourselves and we did great,” Zhang told reporters as sun returned to the Horse Guards Parade after Sunday’s downpours.

“Usually the first game is not as horrible,” her team mate Xue added.

Zhang and Xue, the second-ranked pair, lost to Russian outsiders Anastasia Vasina and Anna Vozakova on Saturday in a major shock that added early spice to the tournament.

The sport, with its winning combination of scantily clad women and a great party atmosphere, has proved a massive hit with the public and the spokeswoman for David Cameron said even Britain’s prime minister “had probably had a peek.”

The venue is right next to Cameron’s official residence at 10 Downing Street.

“I can confirm there is no direct line to the beach volleyball from Number 10... but I’m sure he will be getting out and about and enjoying the sport,” Cameron’s spokeswoman said.

Prince Albert II of Monaco, who attended Monday’s session, is an even greater enthusiast.

“I’m such a fan I built my own court. It’s just fantastic,” he told reporters on Monday.

Gold medal favourites Larissa Franca and Juliana Felisberta of Brazil continued their strong start with a 21-18 21-13 win against Germany’s Katrin Holtwick and Ilka Semmler.

“It’s unbelievable what is happening. We know beach volleyball is not a great tradition here but it is clear the spectators appreciate the action,” Semmler told reporters.

However, the Brazilians were downbeat about their performance despite the comfortable win.

“We made a lot of mistakes, but in the end we wrapped it up. Because we are first ranked we are not supposed to make mistakes,” Larissa said.

The Germans can console themselves with the fact that they only need to beat outsiders Mauritius to progress to the knockout stage.

The Mauritius pair of Nioun Chin Elodie Li Yuk Lo and Natacha Rigobert are the first athletes from the island nation to compete in an Olympic team event.

Bu they were comprehensively beaten 21-10 21-11 on Monday by the Czech pair of Hana Klapalova and Lenka Hajeckova.

“They were a very good team and played very smartly. But we were pleased how we performed. Just to get to the Olympics has been an achievement and I think we can be proud of our performance so far,” Li Yuk Lo said.