London 2012 Olympics: Does beach volleyball need the bikini?
In one women's beach volleyball semifinal amid a driving rain at the London 2012 Olympics Tuesday, neither team wore just their bikinis. What women wear has been a big issue here.
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The problems with beach volleyball, however, went far beyond head scarves. Before a March rule change, women had to wear a bikini, though they could wear a body suit beneath it when the weather was cold (which is what the Brazilians did Tuesday). Now, they can wear shorts, as well as the sleeved tops that Americans April Ross and Jen Kessy wore Tuesday.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Week Two of the Olympics
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The old rule was the cause of much criticism from outside groups, which called it a blatant attempt to trade on the sexuality of the players. A British pair did nothing to dispel that notion last year when they sold advertising space on their bikini bottoms – putting a QR code there that, when photographed by a smartphone, led to a betting website.
At times, the Great Bikini Debate has overshadowed the sport itself. The first question at a pre-Games press conference with the British pair was: "Will you promise you will wear bikinis even if it rains?"
The airline Virgin Atlantic even vowed in a press release to "come to the rescue of red-blooded males across the UK by offering to provide banks of patio heaters around the courts … so that competing beauties will continue to wear bikini bottoms."
Who could take offense at a statement like that?
Not the "beauties," actually. To the Americans, at least, the bikini is a uniform as much as a leotard or a judoka's judogi.
"I'm most comfortable in a bikini," said Kessy before the Olympics began. "I grew up in southern California, so this is what I grew up wearing."
But she added: "We want women of all different religions and everyone from across the world to be able to play our sport, and to not be able to play because of the attire is not OK for us."
To teammate Ross, it's all irrelevant. "I could care less what we wear when we play."
On Tuesday night in the rain, she and Kessy were the best possible promotion for that opinion. She and Kessy upset the Brazilians in a thrilling three-set match to advance to the finals against Walsh and May-Treanor.
In what could become one of the images of the London Games for the US, Ross and Kessy, overcome with emotion, lay on the sand after the match, hugging each other in delirious disbelief – clothed in long-sleeved shirts that would have been illegal a year ago.
Call it the reverse Brandi Chastain sports bra moment – a night when beach volleyball did just fine without its bikinis, thanks.