Everyone who had been there said beach volleyball is the signature venue of the Rio Olympics, a giant temporary stadium set up on Copacabana Beach with matches played under the lights only yards from the surf in front of a raucous crowd. Even though it's the closest venue to my hotel, and I've run past it nearly every day, I had yet to actually go inside.
With the U.S. basketball team playing relatively early, and posting an easy win over Argentina in front of the best crowd of the Olympics, Wednesday night was my chance to get over to beach volleyball and watch Agatha and Barbara play for gold in front of another frenzied partisan audience.
It's a scene, man.
The crowd was crazy, as expected, a sea of Brazilian flags. That part was pretty cool. And beach volleyball is a fun sport to watch, there's no argument there. But the rest of it is pretty bizarre.
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It's short-attention-span sports, quick boom-boom-boom points followed by short delays that are filled with all kinds of distraction.
First of all, music blares between every point, like the NBA on steroids. After certain plays – an ace, a big spike, a “monster block” – dancers come out from the corners of the arena and they play little songs that people chant along with -- “Monster block! Monster block!” – and the whole thing feels like some sort of late-night Univision variety show.
Maybe that's Brazilian. Maybe that happens at every beach volleyball match everywhere. But it's corny and creepy, and that's not the weirdest part. You do that stuff in the States, in sports other than beach volleyball, and maybe a few kids put their hands in the air
Here, there's like 70 percent audience participation. They're into it.
Still, the stands have been consistently full, which you can't say about most other venues.
Anyway, Barbara and Agatha lost, quickly, to the tremendous disappointment of the crowd, leaving gold to two Germans who probably never expected to outlast Kerri Walsh Jennings and the two Brazilian duos, one of the most unexpected results of these games.
The stadium is built on sand, constructed entirely of scaffolding. They were still working on it four days before the Opening Ceremony. (If you could have placed $5 on “most likely venue to collapse/fail,” it would have been my pick.) It will disappear shortly, vanish from the beach, leaving only faint echoes of people chanting “Monster block!” between crashing waves.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock