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Sand Blast
Michael Bamberger
September 22, 1997
The first world championships of beach volleyball were a hit, but the struggle for the sport's future continues
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September 22, 1997

Sand Blast

The first world championships of beach volleyball were a hit, but the struggle for the sport's future continues

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The Nike swoosh was everywhere, of course: on the undersides of flipped-up visors, on sunglasses, on the cross-straps of sandals. One of the few places the swoosh was missing was on the rakes used to smooth the sand between games. Nike doesn't make rakes. The Midwest Rake Co. does. Its Yard-PRO model was much in evidence.

At the world championships men and women were paid equally, but it didn't seem quite fair, really, since the women play a more engaging game than the men, with longer rallies and more obvious emotion. The women's final was spectacular. Silva and Pires, seeded third in the 32-team, single-elimination tournament, won the first game 12-11. McPeak and Arce, the No. 1-seeded team, dominated the second game 12-1. That forced a third game, in which a point is scored on every serve. The game was tied at 4 each, then at 6, then 8, then 9. When the Brazilians took an 11-9 lead, Arce and McPeak called a timeout. The music came up. The music faded out. When play resumed, the U.S. team won the next point, and then Arce went back to serve. She tossed the ball and leaped. A jump serve. A risky, aggressive play that can result in an ace. This time her serve landed in the net. Game, match, dream over. "Seeing Brazil win like this, it gets old," McPeak said.

Not, of course, for the Brazilians. Beach volleyball is a national pastime in Brazil, whereas in the U.S. the game is played intensely only in Southern California and a few other beach spots.

In the men's final Whitmarsh and Ceman won their first game handily, 12-5, but lost 12-8 in the second. In the tiebreaker, digs that are normally routine for Whitmarsh escaped him. Ceman's serve, ordinarily a bullet, lacked its usual zip. The two Americans lost 12-10. Quite a day for Brazil. As if Rio needed another reason to throw a party.

"I believe the Americans are the best volleyball players in the world," Silva said afterward. "But today the Brazilians were best." She is irresistible, a true sport, a wonderful athlete, feisty on the court, modest off it.

While Silva spoke to reporters, two young girls waited outside the pressroom, pantomiming Silva's serves, her digs, her high fives, mimicking her every move. The girls were turning an athlete into an icon. You want to grow the sport, watch the kids.

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