24 July 2019
| THE HEARTBEAT OF WOMEN'S SPORT

Beach volleyball: In the shadow of the Palace

January 3, 2011

Recent papers may have been dominated by the royal engagement. But something almost as glamorous was on the back pages as plans for a majestic beach volleyball stadium for London Olympics were submitted to Westminster Council. To be staged in Horse Guards Parade no less!

Denise-JohnsIndeed in helping launch London’s bid to host the 2012 Games, Tony Blair said: “It is a masterstroke by the organisers to site the beach volleyball in Horse Guards Parade, just outside the prime minister’s window.”

Who would have guessed back then that the door at No.10 would now be firmly closed to him? And I wonder if he’ll be paying for a ticket which will be among the most expensive of the entire Olympics with seats for the final costing up to £450.

We can thank the Americans for introducing beach volleyball as an Olympic sport at Atlanta in 1996. With a hint of Baywatch it is has been gradually catching on in Britain and TV coverage during the Games – with more venues like NIVEA SUN Yellowave in Brighton springing up – will definitely see a surge in its popularity.

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But it is offshore that GB has been making the biggest impression and nobody less so than Denise Johns (pictured above) who was voted the Most Inspirational Player in the 2010 SWATCH-FIVB World Tour Women’s Post-Season Awards. That she knocked Brazilian legend and five time winner Shelda Kelly Bruno Bede off top spot is testament of things to come.

Born in Luxembourg and brought up in the States (okay, we’ll take all the help we can get!) Denise’s dad hails from Hemel Hempstead. Bonus points go for her having a Gloucestershire boyfriend, GB men’s beach volleyball player Jody Gooding. and when not globetrotting the world you’ll find her zipping around Bath in her tatty Peugot 405. Mind you it is a convertible, of course!

Denise-Johns-2

At 31, her highlights already include beating some of the sporting greats. “My best moment in the sport so far was in 2005 on the AVP (American tour) playing with partner Alicia Polzin,” she said. “We beat Holly McPeak & Jen Kessy and Rachel Wacholder & Elaine Youngs in the same tournament in San Diego. They are legends in the sport and we were on fire being cheered on by friends and family. It was the first time my grandpa had watched me play and was very memorable”.

Provided she and her current partner Lucy Boulton stay ahead of fellow Brit pairing Shauna Mullin & Zara Dampney in the FIVB World Tour rankings, Denise is likely be flying the flag in London. It explains why this season’s ‘winter’ training is even more intense than ever.

As with many fringe sports, personally securing funds to compete at the highest level is crucial and particularly so when it demands costly international travel. Though there is money to be won on the FIVB World Tour, time and effort always must be set aside to generate vital sponsorship.

“Finding sponsors certainly adds pressure and it can be a distraction to one’s training regime. However, it’s a necessity so I must thank all my current sponsors and, of course, my family for all their support in helping me pursue my goals of being an FIVB finalist and 2012 Olympic medallist.” said Johns.

Come the Games, those uninitiated in the sport of the ‘One Finger’ and ‘Two Finger’ hand signals may be giggling. but it will be the sheer the athleticism and skill that will have everyone gasping. At 6’ 1” and full stretch Denise is regularly spiking the ball eight and a half feet off the sand.

Ranked 90 in the world in 2008, 49 in 2009 and 40 this year, Johns and Boulton are certainly moving fast forwards in the right direction. Their commitment cannot be doubted but on the current standings it’s Brazil and the USA who are most likely to be on the podium.

However, with Germany ranked four and in with a real chance despite sharing our weather and having no beaches to speak of, it goes to prove anything is possible. So let’s give it up loud to Team GB. And prepare to party, party, party: beach volleyball style!

As a footnote, who can ignore the sexist connotations associated with the women’s game? Will beach volleyball be a sport that can really be taken seriously when the media all too often only focus on the glamour?

The answer surely should be a resounding ‘YES’ and professional and amateur sportswomen are more than making a strong case. But with thirteen breathtakingly beautiful Miss World contestants there to launch the recent Sanya Open Beach Volleyball Championships in China it’s clear the jury is still out.

Eddie Ottman, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

Image credits: FIVB

One Comment

  1. Pingback: An insider's account of GB women’s volleyball - Sportsister - The Women's Sports Magazine | Sportsister

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