It was once the sport of the golden shores of California and Brazil, but now more nations are trying to develop winners in beach volleyball.
After competing in Beijing a decade ago, Chinese Olympic medalist Xi Zhang has moved to the U.S. in the hope it will translate into gold medals. In the process, she’s inspiring young athletes back home who are now considering the sport.
CGTN’s Patrice Howard reports from Los Angeles.
Follow Patrice Howard on Twitter @PatriceReports
Olympic medalist Xi Zhang promoting beach volleyball to Chinese playersAfter competing in Beijing a decade ago, Chinese Olympic medalist Xi Zhang has moved to the U.S. to compete in beach volleyball and inspire young athletes back home who are now considering the sport. CGTN’s Patrice Howard reports from Los Angeles.
For most people, beach volleyball is pure and simple fun in the sun. But China’s own Zhang Xi takes this sport seriously.
“Southern California is the birthplace of beach volleyball. If I want to get to know beach volleyball very well, I have to live here and talk to people who know beach volleyball and play with the best athletes,” Zhang Xi said.
A decade after she won the bronze medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, this professional player is competing with the best of the best here in Southern California – hoping to inspire young Chinese athletes to consider this competitive sport.
“We are first two teams to bring beach volleyball to China and make little girls start to like beach volleyball so we’re so proud we can make the people like beach volleyball and enjoy our playing.”
Beach volleyball got its start as a form of family fun at the beach in sunny, sandy places like Southern California. But once it appeared for the first time at the 1996 Olympics, the world took notice, and the sport took off.
“Over here we have been playing beach volleyball since I think in the 30’s or something like that so I think the Olympics has a lot to do with the popularity and rise in other countries. Right now, we have representatives from China, from Brazil, Canada. I think the days of U.S. dominance are over,” Donald Sun with the Association of Volleyball Professionals said.
At the last Olympics, team USA didn’t medal in the men’s beach volleyball competition and had to settle for third place in the women’s tournament. As teams from Europe and Asia make strides in the sport, American athletes like Geena Urango are embracing its growth.
“I think it’s really awesome to see how fast the sport is growing – and also to know it’s the fastest growing emerging sport at that level too so give it a few years and the depth is going to be even bigger than it is now,” Urango said.
Xi says there are some obvious cultural hurdles for her sport to overcome in China.
“We have some different traditional things. Chinese don’t like the sunshine! That’s why they like to bring the umbrella under the sun. But things are changing. Now, they like to wear the bikini on the court.”
If China is willing to invest heavily in ice hockey ahead of its next winter Olympics, perhaps there’s hope for a summer sport like beach volleyball to one day strike it big in Asia.