At Tokyo Games beach volleyball, anything but business as usual

TOKYO - "Love Rollercoaster" boomed from the speakers in Shiokaze Park, but American beach volleyball players Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil found it another roller coaster ride of weirdness as they took on a tough Brazilian team on a sticky hot Saturday morning.
Team USA's youngest beach volleyball team was able to send Ana Patricia Silva Ramos and Rebecca Cavalcanti Barbossa Silva in three sets to achieve their third victory in a row at the Tokyo Olympics and to stay in the medal battle.
But Tokyo is in a state of emergency over a spike in Covid-19 cases, so there was only a bit of applause when it was over. Most of the 12,000 seats were empty.
“Yes,” they replied unanimously when asked if they were uncomfortable with competing in front of an audience with empty seats.
"We kind of got used to it, but it's still weird," said Claes, her skin glassy with sweat and sand, after the game. "They cannot feed on their energy, so we have to feed on our energy."
What's worse, Sponsil said, is that they can't really go out and party. They are only allowed to spend two hours a day together because Claes, 25, is in quarantine until Sunday.
Image: Rebecca Silva, Ana Patricia Silva Ramos, Sarah Sponcil, Kelly Claes (Petros Giannakouris / AP)
Why? Because on the flight over to Japan, Claes was sitting near a passenger who tested positive for Covid.
"We're used to literally being connected at the hip, so that's tough," said Sponsil, 24.
To enter the venue you have to go through a security guard.
Reporters who arrived to cover the competition had their temperature checked twice and had to empty their pockets as they passed through security. Those who brought drinks had to open the bottles and take a sip.
"You have to drink," said a smiling but stubborn security guard.
And they had to take the empty bottles with them when they left, because for safety reasons the garbage and recyclable bins were sealed with plastic film so that no one could use them.
In the stadium, a very enthusiastic DJ played a mix of disco, dance music and rock that would have got a lot going if there had been one.
Several members of the sand care team swayed rakes in hand and clapped to the music. But not the small army of ushers and security guards that outnumbered the athletes and reporters - they vigorously monitored all empty seats.
When a reporter dared to leave his assigned spot for a vacant spot in the shade, an usher quickly appeared and shooed him back.
Before Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a state of emergency, fans were given a list of things they weren't allowed to do. One of them cheered the athletes because he feared it could spread Covid.
That rule appeared to be in place on Saturday when the handful of Brazilians and Americans in the stands, mostly people traveling with the Olympic teams, largely stayed away from breakouts, despite the fact that the Brazilians received enthusiastic applause from time to time.
Image: Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil from the USA (Loic Venance / AFP - Getty Images)
Because of the high temperatures that blanketed Tokyo for much of the games, maintenance teams wet the sand at the beach volleyball venue after participants complained that their feet were burned.
But neither the Brazilians nor the Americans were bothered by the hot conditions and fought hard for every point.
"Woo," said a smiling sponsor after the match.
Claes wiped her brow as she left the venue a few seconds later.
"We knew it was going to be a fight," she said. "And it was."
In this article:
Kelly Claes
US beach volleyball player

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