Beach volleyball: Steve Grotowski and John Garcia-Thompson poised to make history


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The Independent Online

Steve Grotowski and John Garcia-Thompson are hopeful the unique atmosphere of Horse Guards Parade will blow the opposition away when they take to the sand on the opening day of the Olympic beach volleyball tournament.

Grotowski and Garcia-Thompson will make a little bit of history at 4.30pm tomorrow when they become the first British men's team to contest the event since its debut at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Their Pool F opener against the Canadian duo of Martin Reader and Joshua Binstock pits the British pair against two of their good friends on the world tour, but niceties will be in short supply when the first grains of sand are kicked up in anger tomorrow.

A partisan 15,000 crowd is anticipated over 13 days of competition at Horse Guards Parade's centre court - a venue hailed as "brilliant" and "amazing" by the British athletes, and widely considered the biggest and best stage the sport has ever graced.

And Grotowski believes a little good-natured ribbing of the opposition by the fired-up home crowd will go some way towards sealing a dream home triumph.

"I can't even imagine how loud it's going to be," Grotowski told Press Association Sport.

"I think it's going to be amazing to play at a home Olympic Games, in front of that many people cheering you on.

"We need to get them in and get them cheering, maybe heckle the other team a little bit. It's all part of sport."

The Games have great significance for 30-year-old Grotowski, who was born in the London suburb of Wimbledon but moved to Florida at the age of 10, where he experienced his first taste of volleyball.

Grotowski's American accent and the Spanish roots of Garcia-Thompson - who was born in Mallorca but has dual citizenship owing to his English mother - gave way to some uncharitable questioning of their Britishness in the build-up to the Games, but both insist they are fully committed to doing their very best for Team GB.

"To be part of the GB team, we're so proud," said Garcia-Thompson, who switched allegiance to Britain in 2009 to pursue his Olympic dream.

"You feel it is a massive family. Everyone is pushing you and helping you - it feels amazing."

The help from within Team GB and the expected deluge of support from the temporary stands at Horse Guards Parade has given the pair a platform and profile the likes of which they have never experienced before.

Although realistic about their chances at the Games - they concede that a medal is a long shot at best - the pair do harbour realistic expectations of safely negotiating the pool phase, which also includes matches against teams from Norway and Brazil.

"It's an open pool and one we have every chance of progressing from," Grotowski added.

A place in the second week of the competition is also a realistic aim for the British women's duo of Zara Dampney and Shauna Mullin, who kick off their campaign - also against a team from Canada - on Sunday.

The pair say their minimum aim is to finish in the top 10 - as managed by Amanda Glover and Audrey Cooper the only previous time a British team played at Olympic level, in 1996 - but Mullin admits the rarefied occasion could give way to a surprise or two along the way.

"I think anything can happen on the day," said Mullin, who with Dampney will also face Greta Cicolari and Marta Menegatti of Italy and Russia's Ekaterina Khomyakova and Evgenia Ukolova in the preliminary phase.

"We have played a lot of these teams before and we've played well against them.

"With the home crowd and our parents in the crowd, that's all you need to get one more ball, one more block, one more ace."

The action at Horse Guards Parade begins at 9am tomorrow when Beijing bronze medallists Zhang Xi and Chen Xue have the honour of contesting the opening match against Russia's Anastasia Vasina and Anna Vozakova.

Defending two-time women's champions Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh from the United States will also be in action in a mouthwatering clash against Sydney champion and five-time Olympian Natalie Cook of Australia and her partner Tamsin Hinchley.