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4 August 2012

Ring Cycle

In spite of my relative ambivalence about the London Olympic Games the last time I wrote about them, in the past week I have done the following: attended an opening ceremony party and participated in an accompanying drinking game (and enjoyed it); ordered tickets to some athletics at the Paralympic Games; watched about eight hours of women's gymnastics qualifiers; developed some serious Games envy when hearing about great tickets other people got; and finally, tonight, attended a couple of preliminary women's volleyball games.

Patriotic-ish outfit of the day (L) and in position at Earl's Court (R)

The whole experience was pretty painless as well as being fun. My Tube journey to Earl's Court didn't take any longer than on a normal Friday evening and there were no queues to get into the venue; nor were the security checks particularly onerous. This meant I arrived almost an hour before the 8 pm start time. This was lucky given that there were very few water fountains and I had to queue for over 45 minutes to fill up my bottle. I bet the sponsors sabotaged the water pressure. I got my revenge by eating a KitKat Chunky in front of the Cadbury sign.

Once I got in and found my seat, I was pleased to see that I had a good view of the court; I was pretty high up but almost at the centre of the back of the court. Despite talk of too many empty seats at Olympic events, the stadium was pretty full and there was a great atmosphere. The first match was Team USA vs Serbia and, as expected, it wasn't much of a contest. Although the USA made a slow start in the first set, they convincingly took that set and the following two to win the game. In the second game, Italy played Algeria and although this was a little more evenly matched, Italy won in straight sets.

All's fair in love and volleyball (top), technical time-out,
i.e. court sweeping (bottom)

It was interesting to see the differences between the US team and the others. I don't think I noticed a single serving fault in the US team, for example, whereas the others hit several serves into the net and sent several long. I was also surprised how few of the serves were jump serves. I used to play volleyball for my university team and I know how hard jump serves are, but I thought that at this level there might be more of them. Some of the tallest players, including USA's Simona Gioli, have the luxury of being able to lightly toss the ball up and casually send it soaring over the net; others' rely on their consistency over their power. Serving was actually one of my secret weapons when I played. My overarm serve was fine but I had a super-fast underarm serve with hella topspin on it, which won me a fair few aces over the years, not least because my opponents never expected it. I was also pleased that even the national teams do the same warm-up we used to do before every match.

 L: Italy in royal blue and Algeria in white; R: USA in navy, Serbia in white 

One of the things that most confused the audience was the libero position. Why is she wearing a different colour top? / I think she's the captain or Maybe they ran out of shirts. I used to play libero, a specialist defense player who can freely switch in and out of the game as needed. Basically, their job is to get all the difficult shots that come over the net and to back up the blockers in case they can't block a spike. In most sports, I hate defensive positions but when you are 5'4ish, you don't have a lot of choice. Indeed, even in the national teams, the liberos tend to be of fairly average height.

Attack the block! USA/Serbia (T), Italy/Algeria (B)

I had a really good time tonight--it reminded me of how much I used to love volleyball and how much I miss playing, even if I don't miss the bruised knees or getting volleyballs in my face. Everyone was having a good time and in the second match started to cheer on Algeria, who had fewer supporters in the crowd. The emcee organized a couple of karaoke numbers and other activities to stir up some energy; I found these a little awkward but unlike many of the attendees who got their tickets because it was the only Olympic ticket available, I really enjoy watching volleyball.


Here's a video I took of what ended up being one of the longest rallies of the USA/Serbia game:



Getting home wasn't too bad, either: it didn't take too long to get out of the venue and then I got a bus straight back to NoMaRo. For £30, it was a great, entertaining night: I got to see two matches and some brilliant volleyball, and I got to go to the Olympics. Hooray! If any volleyball tickets become available, don't be put off by the fact that it's not one of the major sports and that it's not in the Olympic Park: I'd highly recommend snapping them.

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