Rave reviews for Olympic volleyball venue
BEIJING ” The rock ‘n’ roll throbbed and the sand soothed like talcum powder.
The Olympic beach volleyball stadium drew rave reviews from players and officials at a test event Thursday, although not all was perfect.
There were enough snags to go around with the Beijing Games less than a year away: inconsistent security, legions of earnest but ineffective volunteers and bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Overall, though, Beijing’s man-made beach got a big thumbs-up.
“It’s the best stadium I’ve ever played in,” said Mari-Liis Graumann, half of Estonia’s women’s team that lost to a Chinese pair.
Beach volleyball is one of 11 test events being held this month in such sports as baseball, rowing and field hockey. Organizers want to gauge the readiness for the games.
“The arrangements are very good. We haven’t had any bad experience at all,” said Sarah Schmocker of Switzerland’s women’s team.
Pop songs and rock ‘n’ roll powered out of speakers between plays and volunteers moved quickly during timeouts to rake super-soft sand shipped in from southern China’s island province of Hainan at a cost of almost $1.3 million. Cheerleaders and bare-chested male dance teams danced in the court and beside sponsor logos during breaks.
After several days of clear skies, Beijing again lay under a heavy layer of smog and humidity Thursday. That underscored concerns over pollution, much of it from the city’s 3 million cars.
In another kind of dry run, Beijing plans to keep half its cars in the garage for four days beginning Friday. A city government notice delivered to residents called on them to comply for the sake of the games. Cars are to take to the road on alternating days, depending on whether the license plates end in even or odd numbers.
“There is still a gap between the present environmental quality and the target for hosting the Olympics and building a comfortable city,” the notice said.
Beijing’s polluted air and the possibility of protests or other unrest during the games remain question marks.
Not so the 37 Olympic venues, almost all of which are to be finished by the end of the year. China is investing heavily on unique designs built to a massive scale, part of the $40 billion being spent to remake the Chinese capital for next year.
“I think the venue is well prepared for the games and it’s a very good atmosphere for the players to play,” Australian referee Cameron Olson said. “If some of the volunteers can improve their English in the next 12 months, that will make it better for everyone.”
The venue in sprawling Chaoyang Park is approached along footpaths smelling of freshly laid asphalt beside newly planted sunflower beds.
Security checkpoints with guards and metal detectors were at all access points. Yet vehicles without passes easily drove past ineffectual checkpoints, and reporters found themselves wandering down passages leading directly to the court with no one to stop them.
The site was blanketed with hundreds of volunteers, but few spoke more than a few words of English.
The crowd, though only about 100 in number, displayed the nationalistic bent common to all Olympic home crowds. At times during the China-Switzlerland game, the public address system rang with the cheer “Let’s go China!”
“They are very good,” Schmocker said, referring to the fans. “I love them even though they support the Chinese team.”
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