Tuesday, July 26, 2005

For Volleyball, Muscovites Head to the Beach
By Dan Shea Staff Writer

Summer in the city can be a sweaty, stifling, unpleasant time. Over the years, though, most Muscovites have found an effective way of combating the dog-day heat: they leave.

Meanwhile, for those who do not have recourse to a dacha in the relatively cooler sylvan pockets of the Moscow region, options for cooling off may seem few and far between. Fortunately for those stuck in the city, a refreshing summer standby that many Americans have enjoyed for years has reached the shores of the Moscow River and is rapidly gaining followers.

That particular activity, which involves neither hibachi grills nor horseshoes, is broadcast on an almost daily basis on state-run Sport television, although unlike most of that channel's content, the competitors shown are usually not Russian but tend more frequently to be Brazilian or Americans by the name of, for example, Misty May or Kerry Walsh.

The sport in question is beach volleyball, and, despite indoor volleyball's longstanding popularity in Russia and the country's traditional dominance in that sport, beach volleyball is a relatively new phenomenon in Moscow, familiar to many only through television.

This summer, though, the city is playing host not only to a small but worthy number of beach volleyball courts open to the public, but also to a range of tournaments, including the European Championship Final, that promises to spread the reach of beach volleyball.

For those ready to head out and play, one of the most popular spots is Beach No. 3 at the Serebryany Bor nature preserve on the Moscow River.
The beach fields some six to eight beach volleyball courts, all of which boast soft, rich sand and are surrounded by sponsors' banners, lending a professional air to the beach volleyball hack who sneaks in for a quick game.

Lena Kharitonova, an engineer who began playing beach volleyball about a year ago, said that more and more Russians were being drawn to the game's obvious selling points: "Sun, sand and a cool breeze," all of which can be found at the scenic preserve.

Other beach volleyball options at Serebryany Bor include Beach No. 2 and the unnamed beach area adjacent to Beach No. 3. The latter of the two features a lively beach volleyball scene, which, although the conditions are a bit primitive in comparison to those at Beach No. 3, draws a large crowd of regulars who field makeshift tournaments on a regular basis.

But these pick-up games are hardly for the fainthearted, as the beach with no name is known unofficially -- but with good reason -- as the nudist beach.

On Saturday, there was a steady stream of games taking place on the three courts at the nudist beach. This is more or less the norm, said Alexander, one of the beach's most ardent competitors, who modestly gave only his first name. Alexander praised the "beauty of the game" and said he played at the nudist beach "practically every day."

When asked why he preferred to play without clothes, he matter-of-factly answered, "Because this is a nudist beach," later stating that a lack of clothes "lets you play more freely."

For those who would rather keep their shorts on, the Beach Club at Vodny Stadion, which is located on the Khimki Reservoir, offers its guests beach volleyball for a 200-ruble entrance fee. The volleyball action at Vodny Stadion is subject to temporary disruptions, such as last weekend's Russian Jet Skiing Championship.

Beach volleyball can also be found throughout the Moscow region, including in the city of Mytishchi, where the Third Annual Russia Cup Beach Volleyball Championship was held on July 15-17. By the tournament's final day, near-capacity crowds of about 300 gathered to see Natalya Uryadeva and Alexandra Shiryayeva take the women's trophy, and Sergei Tetyukhin and Dmitry Karasyov the men's.

Yelena Popova, a spectator at the tournament and native of Mytishchi, had first
seen beach volleyball on television three or four years ago and only knew that it was "something from America." But after watching the tournament, she was ready to try it herself.

Meanwhile, Alisa Khabiburina, a student who was also catching her first live glimpse of the game, said she was "very impressed. ... I was surprised by the quality of play." Khabiburina added that she was "not sated" with her taste of beach volleyball and would "definitely come again next year."

That the game is quickly gaining popularity in Russia was a sentiment shared by spectators and players alike -- and for the players it also represents a sort of vindication.

"Right now, the game is played on a very mediocre level in Russia," Tetyukhin said after his victory. "My hope is that in three to four years, if we're serious about this, we can become world-class competitors."

For the time being, beach volleyball enthusiasts in Moscow will have to content themselves with a small but growing number of beach volleyball courts and with not-yet-champion professional teams.

When asked which teams he feared most as he prepared to attend an international competition in Poland, Tetyukhin answered, "Right now, all of them. We're the weakest."

Source: http://www.moscowtimes.ru/stories/2005/07/26/015.html


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