We were here in the last great bastion of communism, to witness beach volleyball final in what promised to be a remake of Rocky IV, only this time with bikinis. On the side of freedom were Misty May-Treanor and Kerry Walsh, a couple of happy-go-lucky beach girls up against all odds against the modern version of the Big Red Machine. China’s players may have had names but, as far as we were concerned, they were players that had been stamped out by their Olympic production committee, as both of their sides had easily marched through the competition, only losing to each other, and both playing for medals.
The Chinese had also rigged these beach volleyball finals so that it was raining. This was, of course, to give their side the advantage since they must have learned their sport in an artificial venue that could simulate any condition, as opposed to the pristine beaches of Brazil and Southern California. We headed to battle; ready to stand alone amongst the masses of the proletariat, 100% ready to risk our lives in the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. Then we walked into the stadium.
China may still be communist but it doesn’t seem to lack freedom. It certainly doesn’t feel repressed. Its volleyball facility is an amazing venue. In spite of the rain, instead of exuding a grey communistic air, it felt like we’d walked into a beach party. Bikini clad dancers danced around in the rain, the beer was flowing, though it was only 9 am, and the big red machine was represented by a couple of cute svelte girls wearing tiny red bikinis. If this was communism, sign me up.
In the bronze medal game, the Chinese girls did dispatch the Brazilians with calculated precision. As opposed to any nationalized advantage, however, it seemed to come down more to the ability of the Brazilians to block—the same thing that derailed them against the US. They would have no such advantage in the final.
Our other story line inconsistency was that May-Treanor and Walsh hadn’t lost a match in pretty much forever. If anyone was going to play the intimidator, it was going to be them. On the games second point, the Chinese advantage in the opening match was countered when Walsh six-packed (a block where the ball goes right back in the spikers face) Jie Wang. If Ivan Drago was on the court, he was being played by Walsh.
Wang and Jia Tian played a great match. Their precision was matched with passion and they gave the more experienced Americans fits. In the end, however, team USA showed why they are the most dominant team in the history of their sport. When push came to shove, they always got the point. The Chinese had a lead late in game one but couldn’t hold it. In game two, it seemed like Walsh-May were going to easily put them away but, again, they made a spirited come back to, once again, take a lead late in the game. But that was all the Americans would allow. In the end, despite the rain, we could have been on any beach, anywhere in the world, watching some great athletes—in bikinis—having a bit of good old fashioned sport.