Originally created 09/25/00

Bondi beach beckons



I'm sorry, but you can forget all that running around back in the middle of town, the sprints, the last-second shots and the smashed records that made the last week. You're just going to have to get your Olympic information somewhere else from now on.

Because I'm staying at the beach for the rest of Games.

I finally made it to Bondi Sunday for beach volleyball and found a beach haven. Now I just can't figure out what took me so long to get here.

How could I have wasted so much time on mere excitement, on the impassioned competition of the land-locked Olympics and the easy charm of Sydney's people, when the biggest party in this whole party town was here at the shore all along? What the heck was I thinking covering sporting events when there was a shindig going on?

Well, you can be sure I won't make that mistake again.

All those baseball, basketball and soccer games are going to have to report themselves. Michael and Marion will have to call you after their races to tell you how they did.

I'm out of the Olympics business and into the Bondi business. And, believe me, no one with a pulse would blame me for setting up shop on the sand from here on out.

The scenery here is at least equal to Sydney's, the hole concept of city-side beaches still amazing to those of us who have always had to chose one or the other. But the setting, believe it or not, might be even better.

As much as Sydney has right now (and it has everything but hot and cold running ESPN) Bondi has got it beat.

The crowds here are among the best at the Games, and easily the best-looking, ticket sales apparently being limited to bikinied women and bare-chested guys who passed some kind of fitness test. This is where the tanning is medal-caliber, the only place this week where bronze is better than gold.

It's also the only place that has the Bondi Ripple, your basic wave with the added twist of wiggling fingers. That gets led at the stadium intermittently by Lifesaver Billy, a sort of carnival barker in long shorts who fills the breaks.

They also have the blaring music that has infiltrated other arenas as a pathetic means of preventing fans from thinking on their own for even 10 seconds. It's just louder here. And livelier. And more appropriate in a stadium where dancing in the aisles is not only permitted but encouraged.

I mean, they wouldn't play Tom Jones singing "Burning Down the House," if they didn't want you on your feet. And that's where everbody is most of the day, up and moving around in one continuous, informal dance set to the score on the court.

Oh yeah, they also play an Olympic event here. Something about batting a ball back and forth over a net without letting it hit the ground. At least I think that's the point.

But who's got time to look at the play when there's so much more to see, when Australia's most famous beach cradles the stadium? At what other Olympic venue could you look down an exit ramp and see straight out to saphire waves with distant surfers on top of them like little bare-footer hood ornaments? Where else at the Olympics is it all sun, sand and skin?

Beach Volleyball has always had that reputation - the toy department of the Games. But when it came to the Olympics, it always had it's problems, too.

As "hey-dude," cool as the sport is on the surface, it has often found itself at the middle of controversy.

There was the larceny four years ago, when the event's Olympic debut was scheduled to be in Savannah's sand until somebody sent waves of cash to the International Volleyball Federation and the party suddenly headed for the "beach" in Clayton County.

And this year, the locals were not too thrilled to surrender a big chunk of their beach to a 10,000-seat stadium and have their nearest oceanfront cafes co-opted and used as operations buildings.

They threatened protests during the Games, said they would kick sand in the Olympics' face. But you look around here now and see how much life beach volleyball has brought to Bondi, how the surfers just stick their boards under their arms and walk a little farther to the water, and it seems all is forgiven. Or at least forgotten.

As it did in Atlanta, beach volleyball has beaten its earlier challenges and become a hot event at the Olympics. Turns out, the sport is actually a lot like Australia itself: getting here stinks, but once you arrive, it's a blast.

"It's always pumping in here," John Watt, an Olympic volunteer who drew the tough job of watching the crowd at beach volleyball, said Sunday. "It's been a good venue. I've been to a couple of the events at Olympic Park, and they weren't quite as lively. Here, it's been outstanding, with the real beach and the people going crazy. It's been great stuff."

And it's my kind of stuff now.

My plan to become collapse in Bondi for the next week probablt won't work out. First, they stop playing volleyball in two days, after the women's final today and the men's final tomorrow. Also, the people who sent me over here might want more than surf reports and reviews of gelatto stands for next week.

I'll probably have to go to a stadium without a sand floor sometime in the next six days, probably have to watch some kind of race or game instead of just beach people.

Too bad.

If it were up to me, I'd let somebody else pick up the Dream Team. I'd rather keep living this one right here.



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