Dom Joly: Beauties, balls and a beach

Click to follow
The Independent Online

I look down the list of events taking place today – it only takes seconds for my top, journalistic instincts to home in on the big story of the day. I pack my official Olympic merchandise rucksack – sweatband, check; hideous yellow plastic Olympic mac, check. I attach the zoom lens to my camera and pick up a pair of binoculars in the curious miscellany of a shop downstairs in the Media Centre. I'm off to watch some women's beach volleyball and I don't want to miss a moment.

On the shuttle bus I try to work out how this particular "sport" – normally associated with sun-tan cream ads and loafing around on a beach – had made it to Olympic status. Was someone stoned on the application day? I ask around my fellow journos but nobody seems to know. Then we arrive at the venue and I really don't care any more – now this is what I call a spectator sport.

Pumping house music blares out from huge speakers in between every point, while a hyped-up Chinese announcer tries to get the crowd going by shouting things like – "Who wanna' see more action?" and "Everweeboddy wave your flags in the air..." When the players sit down for a break, eight sexy Chinese girls in bikinis run on to the artificial beach and start doing weird synchronised dance routines that look like they've been copied from an episode of Scooby-Doo in Honolulu.

These are "The Beach Girls" and the crowd loves them long time. I look around the packed outdoor arena – everybody is going mental. Opposite me a group of three, rather square-looking Swiss girls are dancing their socks off to every rubbish track. I love beach volleyball.

I watch Austria (a country with a highly developed beach culture) play Greece. All four girls are wearing bikinis – for no particular reason. Why they can't play in normal outfits like every other sport, I have no idea, but you won't find me complaining. It is ridiculous, though – the sand must get everywhere, and I mean everywhere.

Actually, I don't know why other sports don't go down this "beach" route – you could have "beach" badminton, "beach" boxing, even "beach" chess (tag line "Brains In Bikinis"). The list is endless. Why not go the whole hog by having "naked beach volleyball"?

They would surely have the most popular spectator sport in the world on their hands.

All these questions whizz round my head as I spend a very enjoyable afternoon in the peculiar, humid drizzle of Beijing. The DJ plays "Hot in the City" by Billy Idol and I finally understand what the old pop-punk was on about.

Next up is a hideous dance version of "Ring Of Fire" – somebody is sending us all an unnecessary message. Sitting next to me is a perma-tanned, blond Austrian who is commentating on the match for Austrian TV. We get chatting during a "Beach Girls" break. He's so laid-back he could be a duvet. He tells me that he just tours the world, commentating on beach volleyball and "hanging out"... and I thought that I had a great job.

The Austrians win – this, my new friend tells me, is a surprise, so I clap and get excited along with everyone else.

The DJ plays "Heat" by 50 Cent and I feel like a cocktail, but we're not allowed food, or drink in the press stands... boo, what a bummer, dude.

Three minutes after the end of the match a very efficient Chinese volunteer drops a "fact sheet" on my desk – the fastest serve was by one of the Greeks (45mph). The sand temperature was 28.1C. The humidity was 93 per cent... yeah, I know... thanks for that. I try to be professional and work out what went right in the match for Austria. From what I can deduce they won it by their successful blocking (six against one), but, frankly, who cares?

The Beach Girls are back on and dancing to "Heat of the Moment" by Asia. Back in 1976 Mick Jagger was quoted as saying that, of all the events he'd seen at the Montreal Olympics, he had enjoyed fencing the most – they obviously didn't have beach volleyball back then – his loss.