Beach Volleyball and Mountain Biking Go Big Time
CONYERS, GA. — Twenty miles outside Atlanta, an Olympic bus route comes to a stop in a most unlikely spot, a wooded residential area where the first signs of sporting activity are a large pond with a water slide and a mushroom-shaped sprinkler for children. Welcome to Atlanta Beach, the site of a new Olympic attraction, beach volleyball, which was played at the first permanent facility for the sport anywhere, an 11,000-seat stadium that is a three-hour drive from the ocean.
Not long ago, the notion of including a sport in which sunscreen and a swim suit are the basic uniform would have been laughable. But with the Olympics heavily dependent on television revenues, the keepers of the Olympic rings are much more attuned to what attracts viewers. Beach volleyball was one of the first sports to sell out at the Centennial Games, and mountain biking, an Olympic newcomer held at Georgia International Horse Park, was a hit with fans, as women's soccer and softball have been.
Karch Kiraly, who won the men's beach volleyball competition with Kent Steffes, thinks NBC - which carries one of two major professional circuits - was influential in getting the game into the Olympics. "It's surprising it got in so quickly," he says. Supposedly, Olympic officials were convinced after seeing the game played at the world championships in Rio de Janeiro.
Kiraly and Steffes defeated fellow Americans Mike Dodd and Mike Whitmarsh in the men's gold-medal event, but the rest of the sport's medals went to players from other countries. Canada took the men's bronze, while, in women's play, Brazil took the gold and silver and Australia the bronze.
Expanding the Olympic sports menu is not done lightly. Gigantism is a word often heard in the Olympic circles these days, where the goal is to keep the Summer Games to roughly 10,000 athletes. As sports are added, others may be dropped.
At the 2000 Sydney Games, tae kwon do and triathlon are hopping on. Whether beach volleyball and mountain biking stay remains to be determined. The general rule is that men's sports must be practiced in at least 75 countries and on four continents, while women's sports must be practiced in a least 40 countries on three continents.
Many sports would like in. Among those waiting at the Olympic gate are bowling, rope skipping, racquetball, roller skating, underwater swimming, in-line hockey, and ballroom dancing, which is governed by the 62-member International Dance Sports Federation. Don't laugh. Dance competitions attract large crowds in Asia and Europe, and are as athletic as rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized swimming, and figure skating - Olympic sports that lean toward the artistic.