London 2012: Volleyball
Tell me about volleyball:
Volleyball appears in two forms at the Olympic Games; once as a six-player team event indoors, and again as a partner sport moved outside and onto a sand court for beach volleyball. Known for more than spandex shorts and bikinis, the sport made its Olympic debut for both men and women at the Tokyo 1964 Games, but it wasn’t until the 1996 Games in Atlanta that beach volleyball was added. Volleyball makes its London debut July 28, a day after the 2012 Games begin. Only one men’s and one women’s competition exist for indoor volleyball, with 144 men and 144 women competing on each end. Same goes for beach volleyball, with 48 men and 48 women competing. Each country is limited to one men’s and women’s team for both indoor volleyball and beach volleyball.
A special temporary arena will be set up for beach volleyball this year on Horse Guards Parade by Trafalgar Square, but it won’t be a piece of cake to set up as the courts will require a whopping 3,000 tons of sand.
What’s up with the scoring?
Scoring points in volleyball is pretty straightforward: make the ball hit the ground on your opponent’s side of the net. This is usually achieved with forceful serves and airborne spikes, but more on those volleyball buzzwords later. Indoor volleyball matches are played in a best of five set format. The first four sets go to 25 points, while the final set is cut off at 15 and in each set, a team must win by two points.
Beach volleyball matches are best of three sets with 21 points needed to win the first two sets and 15 in the third and final set.
How do players qualify?
Teams can qualify in a number of different ways. For indoor, there’s one spot for the host country, three teams from the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) Volleyball World Cup 2011, one from each Continental Qualification Tournament, and three from the World Olympic Qualification Tournaments for a total of 12 spots.
The qualification process for beach volleyball was revamped for this year’s Olympics, with countries qualifying rather than individual teams. Five winners from the Continental Cup and two from the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Cup qualify for the Olympics, but countries can also earn one of 16 spots via World ranking and Olympic Trials. With Great Britain’s automatic qualification, that’s 24 teams.
International players to watch:
Brazil’s women took down USA for gold for the first time in 2008 on the indoor front. While last year’s winners are at the top of the watch list, it’s hard to count out Great Britain’s women who just might be “the little team that could”. With no funding, the team has been scattered across the world trying to improve their play for the 2012 Games, and with talent like Grace Carter who can spike the ball from 10 feet in the air, this team might be slated for the underdog story of the year. On the men’s side, Brazil was again on a podium with the silver and they’re ranked first followed by Russia and Italy.
In the sand, Brazil and China, ranked first and second, are the female beach volleyball teams to watch. The Brazilian pairing of Juliana Silva and Larissa Franca were on top at last summer’s world championships and stand to establish themselves as the new big names in beach volleyball.
The Brazilian men also pose a threat as their two teams, Marcio Araujo and Fabio Magalhaes as well as Emanuel Regoand Ricardo Santos took silver and bronze in Beijing.
Americans to watch:
USA men took gold in 2008 indoor, and the women weren’t far behind with silver, but Americans really shine in beach volleyball, where they’ve won five of the eight gold medals awarded since the sport’s first appearance at the Olympics in 1996.
Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor are synonymous with beach volleyball in the US, and they’ll be back vying for their third Olympic title this summer. They were undefeated at Worlds or Olympic events together since 2001 until the Brazilian pairing of Silva and Franca defeated Walsh and Treanor at the 2011 world championships. At 33 and 34 years old respectively, age could be the only thing in this third-ranked duo’s way.
Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser are the favorites on the men’s side, as they are ranked No. 2 in the FIVB Olympic Qualification Rankings and are the defending gold medalists from Beijing.
Talk like an Olympian – terms to know:
Spike – when a player overhand slams the ball into the opponent’s court.
Block – a defensive move where a team prevents the attacking ball from traveling over the net by forming a wall of hands at the net. Sometimes two players will do this side-by-side, forming a wall of four hands. This is called a double block.
Dig – a defensive passing shot low to the ground, usually in an attempt to return an opposition spike.
Setter – the player who sets the ball for the attacker to spike, usually referred to on the second of the team’s three allotted shots. Ideally, the three shots will involve a pass to the setter, and then a lofty set for the attacker to spike.