The U.S. Olympic beach volleyball trials begin today at the Inner Harbor, with preliminary sessions today and tomorrow and Olympic qualifying matches this weekend. No matches are scheduled for Thursday, which will serve as a rain makeup day if either of the first two sessions is postponed or interrupted by inclement weather. But matches will be stopped only if the weather is severe (heavy rain or lightning), so fans should bring umbrellas if there is a chance of light or moderate showers.
The large warehouse and outdoor parking lot adjacent to the Rusty Scupper restaurant (801 Key Highway) has been converted into a four-court beach volleyball facility that can accommodate three preliminary matches at a time and seat approximately 4,000 spectators. It also includes a practice court, a "Beach Festival Village" where spectators can buy refreshments and patronize the event's commercial sponsors, and Club Olympic, a beach-theme nightclub that will be operated by the Baja Beach Club on Friday and Saturday from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.
It took 1,500 tons of sand -- trucked in from the Eastern Shore -- to turn a large parking lot into a small beach. And not just any sand. Samples had to be approved by the U.S. Olympic Committee and the governing bodies of the men's and women's volleyball tours before it could be delivered to the site last Tuesday.
Beach volleyball is a hybrid form of traditional indoor volleyball that pits two-person teams on a sand court. The sport, which was born on the beaches of Southern California, has grown in worldwide popularity so quickly that it was accepted as a medal sport for the 1996 Olympics without going through a demonstration phase. Three men's teams and three women's teams will compete in Atlanta, but only two of each will be selected this week. The top men's team (Sinjin Smith and Carl Henkel) and women's team (Nancy Reno and Holly McPeak) in the pro tour rankings already have qualified for the Olympics.
Sixteen men's teams and 11 women's teams will compete in the preliminary rounds, but the second-ranked men's team (Jeff Williams and Carlos Briceno) and women's team (Linda Hanley and Barbra Fontana-Harris) have earned byes into the semifinals. The most prominent team competing in the preliminaries will be the "Killer K's" combination of two-time indoor volleyball Olympic gold medalist Karch Kiraly and longtime teammate Kent Steffes.
Obviously, the two teams that have received byes into the semifinals should be among the strong favorites to make the Olympic team. The No. 2 men's team of Williams and Briceno and the No. 2 women's team of Hanley and Fontana-Harris need to win only two matches to go to Atlanta. Kiraly and Steffes, the top-ranked men's team on the Association of Volleyball Professionals Tour, are the top men's seed and may be the most feared men's team in the world. Carolyn Kirby and Lisa Arce are seeded first in the women's prelims, but the second-seeded team of Liz Masakayan and Angela Rock also is very formidable.
Kiraly and Steffes draw a bye in the first round of the double-elimination men's preliminary draw, which will send three teams to join Williams and Briceno in the final four. That four-team draw also will compete in a double-elimination format that climaxes with two Olympic qualifying finals. The top six women's seeds draw byes in the first round of the double-elimination preliminary, which will send three teams to join Hanley and Fontana-Harris in the women's final four. That also will be played in a double-elimination, double-final format.
Why show up
Beach volleyball has become popular because it merges a competitive, easy-to-follow sport with the any-excuse-for-a-party California beach lifestyle. The setting will be faux tropical -- though no plastic palm trees need apply -- and the competition will be conducted in a far less formal fashion than your typical Olympic qualifying event. The players compete in beach attire that in some cases may not be politically correct, and the spectators dress accordingly, sipping drinks in courtside beach chairs or in less-expensive grandstand seats.
The ticket situation
Tickets and VIP sky-box seats have been on sale for weeks -- and tournament officials say they are satisfied with the way the advance sale has gone -- but plenty of good tickets are available for walk-up purchase. General admission tickets for each session sell for $15, reserved seats are $30 and courtside beach chair seats are $80.
The preliminary sessions today and tomorrow run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday's session, which includes semifinals and one qualifying final, runs from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday's session, which includes two semifinal matches and one qualifying final, runs from 10 a.m. to 3: 30 p.m. Sunday's schedule includes two qualifying finals and runs noon to 3 p.m. with closing ceremonies to follow. Club Olympic will operate on Friday and Saturday from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.
The game is played by essentially the same rules as traditional indoor volleyball. The game is to 15 points, and only the serving team can score. The ball is served from beyond the end line (on sand, nylon strapping is used to mark the perimeter of the court which is 29 feet, 6 inches by 59 feet), and it can be struck a maximum of three times before it must cross over the net (height is 7-11 5/8 for men, 7-4 1/8 for women). If the ball hits the sand inside the boundary ropes, a point or service is awarded to the team on the other side of the net. If the ball lands outside the perimeter, the point or service is awarded to the team on that side of the net.
The site of the U.S. Olympic beach volleyball trials is bordered on both sides by large parking lots, so getting in and out should not be a problem, but fans can add to the Inner Harbor experience by parking on the north side of the harbor and taking the water taxi to the drop-off point at the Rusty Scupper. Extra taxis will be on duty to accommodate the increased traffic. Water taxi service also will be available from Fells Point.
Pub Date: 6/04/96