Just to let you know that City Moments is not ONLY about parties :)
China added a third major beach volleyball to its roster this year but the crowds have yet to follow. Last week, the first $600,000 Beijing Grand Slam event took place, part of the FIVB Swatch World Tour which features the best male and female beach volleyball players from around the globe. The Beijing event followed closely on the heels of the Sanya and Shanghai Open tournaments.
The competition was fierce at the Beijing Grand Slam. In the men's division, Brazil's Alison Cerutti and Emanuel Rego (who just last Sunday took the world title in Rome) finished first in a come-from-behind match against Germany's Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann, another top team with many years of world competition experience. The hulking Cerutti threw out two muscular fists after winning the first place prize in Shanghai. In their route to the top, they were aided by an ankle injury to American Phil Dalhausser, which forced Dalhausser and partner Todd Rogers to withdraw from Beijing and may have slowed him in Rome- though to be fair, Rogers and Dalhausser were already experiencing a slight slump even before the injury. After a year of nearly unrivaled domination, Dalhausser and Rogers now have rich competition heading into the 2012 Olympic year. Earlier this spring, Dalhausser and Rogers beat fellow Americans Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal in the finals at the Shanghai Open to take the first place prize there. The World Championships in Rome was a Brazilian affair- Cerutti and Rego faced off against countrymen Ricardo Santos and Marcio Araujo in the final match.
On the women's side, two-time Olympic gold medalists Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor took first place in Beijing but fell to Brazil's Larissa Franca and Juliana Felisberta Da Silva a week later.
Since winning three world titles and Olympic gold medals in Athens and Beijing in the last decade, Walsh and May-Treanor have been seldom seen on the world circuit. Walsh took time off to give birth to two sons. May-Treanor, who has an acting career on the side, was injured while participating in the Dancing With the Stars television show. Now they are back and have made it clear they plan to reclaim their way at the top, though they will also have to face off Brazilian competition in order to do so. They beat the Number 1 ranked team, 2009 world champions Jen Kessy and April Ross (also of the USA), twice in the last two weeks. But Walsh and May-Treanor lost to Franca and Silva in a close three-set final in Rome and Brazil now holds the FIVB world title in both the men's and women's division. Franca and Silva won medals in the three previous world tournaments but this is the first time they have captured the gold.
Getting back to China...
Attendance at the Beijing event was so sparse that at times it seemed that the crowd was outnumbered by cheerleaders. In an apparent face-saving measure that must have been planned in advance, a group of around 300 mostly middle-aged Chinese volunteer fans wearing matching t-shirts arrived for the weekend televised matches, but a crowd of several hundred does not do much to cover even the lower deck of the Chaoyang Park beach volleyball venue, built as a site for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.The low attendance is particularly ironic given that beach volleyball is said to be one of the most sought after events for ticketbuyers going to the London Olympics next year.
I'm not sure why no one came to watch in Beijing, but I have a few thoughts:
1) China's sports attending public is still significantly smaller than other countries in general and for beach volleyball in particular.
2) No Chinese teams advanced to the semi-finals in either the men's or women's divisions.
3) Ticket prices were too high. A door checker told me the price for tickets was 200rmb. If that was the price, it should have been dropped aobut 90 percent just to get people through the door. While plenty of people in China can afford 500rmb bottles of whisky and perfume, they're not going to sporting events. Dropping the ticket prices would have at least enabled a broader and younger audience a better opportunity to attend.
4) Limited publicity in local media. While there certainly were a number of photographers at the tournament, I didn't seem much coverage appearing in press outlets such as China Daily, which could have been used to publicize the event to an international audience.
5) Difficult access. Chaoyang Park's beach volleyball venue is not the easiest destination to reach using Beijing's messy public transportation network. I had enough trouble getting to and from there by taxi.
Hopefully, FIVB and Beijing sports authorities will be able to resolve at least some of these issues next year. Certainly, the event is a great feature to have. The Shanghai Open, which takes place on Jinshan Beach, does not have stellar attendance but draws a much larger crowd than the tournament in Beijing. The Shanghai Open is assisted by free admission and the relatively easy access to the volleyball venue for beach visitors
Some impressions from the turnament