By JULIE JAG
LONDON — Forget the medals, this Olympics is all about the bikinis.
Who will be wearing them? Who won’t? Will they wear them at night? How much will be covered if the rain comes in?
Defending beach volleyball gold medalists Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers and 2012 medal contenders Jake Gibbs and Sean Rosenthal nearly blended into the background Wednesday as reporters peppered the USA beach volleyball women’s teams with questions about their scanty uniforms for the majority of an hour-long press conference. Earlier this week, London’s Evening Standard newspaper plastered its front page with photos of the Brazilan team of Juliana Silva and Larissa Franca wearing two-pieces during a warm day’s practice. And in the weeks before that, security guards, bus drivers and blokes around town could be heard surmising that beach volleyball must have been the first Olympic event to sell out, and they didn’t think Rogers’ defense was the reason.
No, England has simply gone bikini wild.
“It’s weird because … we grew up wearing bathing suits and it’s no big deal to us,” said Team USA’s April Ross, a first-time Olympian who grew up in Newport Beach. “I like to believe people will watch our sport regardless of what we wear, so I feel like I’m stating what’s obvious all the time.”
Walsh, who spent part of her childhood in Scotts Valley, and her partner Misty May-Treanor will experience the fervor tonight when they cap the first day of play with an 11 p.m. match. The two-time defending gold medalists will be pitted against the Australian pair of Nat Cook and Tamsin Hinchley. Their match has drawn the attention of Prince Harry, who said he plans to attend, but who may not be in the box for Rosenthal and Gibbs’ 10 p.m. match. There are also reports that Prime Minister David Cameron might catch a match from the window of his Downing Street home.
“No contact yet, but it would be good to see them at any game,” Kessey said. “It’s great for the sport also. And if they want to have tea, we’re also available for that.”
Why the sudden interest in beach volleyball here?
It could be that fans feared a new rule adopted by the International Volleyball Federation [FIVB] allowing women to wear more clothing — this will be the first Olympics in which players can wear shorts and sleeved shirts, to respect religious differences — would cause the shapely women to put away their two-pieces and pull out their sweatpants.
Kessey said that’s not going to happen.
“We want women of all different religions and everywhere across the world to be able to play our sport. To not be able to play because of the attire is not OK with us,” Kessey said. “So, the fact they can wear more modest gear is something great. You know, we’re not uncomfortable in our bikinis… That’s the most comfortable thing for us.”
The increased attention could also be blamed on the rain, which has forced Londoners to stay covered up in their winter wardrobes for most of the summer. Or, as May-Treanor suggested with an impish grin, maybe it’s just the nature of the sport.
“I think it’s the sweat, sand, rolling around,” she said. “Our sport is very dynamic.”