Late-night starts for sunshine sport
Posted: Saturday August 7, 2004 5:29PM; Updated: Saturday August 7, 2004 5:29PM
LONDON, Aug 6 (Reuters) -- A huge success on its debut in 1996, a photographers' delight on Bondi Beach four years later, beach volleyball will again steal more column inches in Athens than its place in the sporting firmament deserves.
In Sydney volleyball attracted the fifth largest television audience of the 28 summer sports, no doubt helped by the instruction that women's teams should wear bikinis.
Entertainment value will be increased in Athens with the use of the rally point system which means a point is scored off every play no matter who is serving and the court size has also been markedly reduced.
But, for a sport associated with bright sunshine, players will have to adjust to late-night starts under floodlights in Athens at a purpose-built, 10,000-capacity arena on the coast.
Some games will tip off as late as 11 p.m. local time in a schedule which Greek organisers said had been designed to help television broadcasters and spectators.
"The Greeks like to play at night, it's going to be more challenging," said Australia's Natalie Cook, who will be back to defend her Sydney gold medal. "It's just a later culture here, people eat later they go out later and we'll have to adjust to that."
Countries can send only two teams to the Games which proved problematic for Brazil, Switzerland and the United States who have several teams in the top 20.
Brazil won women's gold and silver in 1996, and silver in both the men's and women's events in Sydney, and their run of success is likely to continue in the 24-team Athens tournament.
World champions Ricardo Santos, one of the sport's great blockers at the net and a silver medallist in Sydney, and backcourt player Emanuel Rego are the top seeds after winning six tour titles this year.
However, Santos is still troubled by an ankle injury. Compatriots Benjamin Insafran and Marcio Araujo are ranked second.
The Laciga brothers, Paul and Martin, have been on the tour since 1995 representing land-locked Switzerland and are ranked third. Dain Blanton, gold medallist in Sydney, teamed up last season with Jeff Nygaard, 2.04 metres tall, and they are now the top-ranked American pair.
Two American pairs and two Brazilians occupy the top four places in the women's Olympic rankings.
Ana Paula Connelly, a bronze medallist in volleyball in 1996, and Sandra Pires, a gold medallist in 1996 and a bronze medallist in 2000, came together at the beginning of 2003 and won the last four tournaments of that year.
The other Brazilian pair, Adriana Behar and Shelda Bede won the silver medal in Sydney.
The U.S. had three highly-ranked combinations and Kerri Walsh and Misty May, and Holly McPeak and Elaine Youngs, will play in Athens.
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