Yesterday I spent the day at Horse Guards Parade watching beach volleyball and it will go down in the record books as one of the best experiences of my life. The energy inside the temporary outdoor stadium was electric and loud.
My road to the all-day beach volleyball session began last Friday while standing in line to collect our Olympic tickets.
I was chatting with the two guys in the queue behind me – Tom and Mike – for hours. Mike mentioned that they had three tickets to beach volleyball on Wednesday and asked if I would be interested in attending the session with them if their friend was not able to attend. Without any hesitation, I said, “Yes!”
On Sunday when we were getting pissed on by Mother Nature at Olympic tennis, I received an email from Mike stating, “You still game? Ticket is yours if you want it”. Without any hesitation, I replied, “Yes”! I couldn’t believe it. Beach volleyball was the hottest ticket in London and I was going to see it!
UPDATE | Jan-05, 2018: I still keep in contact with Tom and Mike.
At the time, Peter and I only had Olympic tickets to tennis, rowing and diving. LOCOG had not yet come under scrutiny for the number of empty seats at the sessions which meant they had not yet started releasing additional tickets to the public. Essentially, there was no chance we would be able to secure more tickets.
At around midnight on Monday, LOCOG re-released tickets and Peter bought two tickets to the beach volleyball evening session. This meant that I’d attend the afternoon session with Tom and Mike and then attend the evening session with Peter. I was pumped up. I am still pumped up and its 24 hours later.
The weather during the day was excellent! Hot and sunny and not a drop of rain. Perfect beer drinking weather. Even if it had rained, the matches would have continued as beach volleyball does not suspend play in the event of rain like tennis.
The stadium at Horse Guards Parade is a temporary Olympic venue which will be dismantled after the Games. The stadium seats 15,000 fans and was built over a period of four-and-a-half weeks. Under normal conditions, a stadium of this size would take about 15 months to build. There are 5,000 tons of sand on the court, measuring 1.5 m / 5 ft deep. The temporary bathroom facilities were of Oktoberfest caliber. They were clean, plentiful and heated. Yes, heated. Don’t let the fact that it’s the middle of summer fool you. This is Britain after all.
After entering the stadium, the first thing the DJ said was, “This is not Wimbledon. This is beach volleyball! This is the biggest party in London”!
Then I felt bass and lots of it. I knew straight away that it was going to be a brilliant time.
The daytime beach volleyball session was a giant party. And it’s not a giant party without “the drunk guy.” And “the drunk guy” for that session was seated a mere three rows in front of us. He drank champagne in pint-glass quantities. That’s not an exaggeration. He was literally drinking champagne out of pint glasses.
Here’s the drunk guy in his private and stationary conga line.
During timeouts and intermissions, rakers would appear and rake the court. Raking the court is officially known as “Rakey Rakey Time”. During Rakey Rakey Time, the DJ would play dance and hip hop tunes to pump-up the crowd because, you know, we needed to be more pumped up.
Of the eight matches, two were for USA teams. The USA Men’s teams (Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal) played during the afternoon session and one of the USA Women’s teams (Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh) played at night. The Men’s match was the most exciting match of the day, probably because close friends of Sean Rosenthal had migrated to the vacant seats in front of us and they were rowdy as hell and it was hard not to get caught up in the excitement of it all.
At one point during the day (the only point, actually), the ball came into the stands and the guy seated in front of me caught it. There is no doubt that I was captured on camera when that happened and probably countless other times because our seats were four rows up from the court and the camera was constantly pointed in our direction. I tried to look pretty and not sweaty when the camera pointed at us.
As for the USA Women’s match, it was a record breaker. May-Treanor/Walsh had never lost an Olympic set until that match (they are now 34-1). It was sad but it was so late at night that I couldn’t comprehend any thoughts or feelings other than exhaustion. I am not acclimated for that much sunshine in one day.
Fun fact: If May-Treanor/Walsh win the gold, they will join an elite group of Olympians who have won the same event in three consecutive Games. Michael Phelps joined this elite group tonight with his gold medal finish in the Men’s 200m Individual Medley.
With the close of the afternoon session, I said goodbye to Tom and Mike and was then forced to exit the secure area around the stadium even though I had tickets for the next session. Peter found me sitting on the curb outside security about thirty minutes later and walked back into the secure area after clearing security.
Our evening seats were on the other side of the stadium and were a couple of rows higher than my afternoon seats. The evening seats had a kick-ass view of the London Eye.
The evening session was more laid back than the afternoon session. Still a party but less of a party. This could be due to the fact that the matches were held very late in the day (8pm – midnight) or that there was intermittent rain or that we were seated in the section that was reserved for athletes, Games officials and family members of the athletes. Read: Less alcohol consumption.
The stadium looked completely different when the sun set. The court was bright but the London backdrop was dark. It was neat.
After spending all day watching beach volleyball, I can confirm that beach volleyball is the hottest ticket in London and I hope we are able to buy additional tickets as LOCOG releases them.