Sun, sand and sponsorship

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The Independent Online
Beach volleyball

If you think this new Olympic sport is all about a frivolous Baywatch lifestyle, do not expect its leading practitioners to share your view.

Behind the sun, sand and shades, the beach volleyballers see themselves as intelligent people performing a serious and demanding sport.

"We're not a bunch of sex symbols prancing around in bikinis," said Canadian Barb Broen-Ouellette, who will make history tomorrow when she and team- mate Margo Malowney play in the first Olympic beach volleyball game. "Most have a university education because that's how they came to the sport," the 31-year-old teacher said.

It is a sport with a rising profile and increasing amounts of sponsorship that offers a reasonable living to the professionals who ply the US circuit.

Image problems persist, though. Nancy Reno and Holly McPeak, the American world No 2 pairing, have been in the headlines recently after Reno twice split from her partner with hints that McPeak's decision to have breast surgery had done little to enhance the reputation of the sport.

Reno and McPeak, though barely on speaking terms, got back together for the Games to repair the damage and aim at the serious business of winning a medal.

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