The Olympic competition was held on Brazil's famous Copacabana beach last year. This year, however, the event is not on a beach. The venue is instead in Tokyo's Shiokaze Park, overlooking Tokyo Bay. It is made up of 3,500 tons of sand imported from Vietnam that has been poured into a 16-inch thick surface. This is safe for players and is consistent.
After a rainy match, Alix Klineman from America said that the venue's sand quality was "great here." It passed. "We just need to keep an eye on the sand's behavior based on the weather."
This is more than a simple sandbox. The International Volleyball Federation's "Sand Specification and Homologation Process", lists the requirements all event organizers must adhere to, even the Olympics. The topics include color, size, shape, and even smell.
How does a grain made of sand get to the Olympics?
According to the FIVB guide, 80% to 92% must be coarse or medium-grade grains. These range from 0.5mm up to 2mm. Too little and the sand will become dusty and compacted over the course of the match. Too much and it will scrape against the skin of the players when they dive.
It should be "aesthetically pleasing, non-glaring colour, preferably tan cream, pale brown, or cream." Sand that is too dark absorbs too much heat. Sand that is too light emits glare.
All organic material, including shells and seaweed, must be sifted. It is a safety measure and it also smells.
You must have the grains rounded or "subangular" and they should not be obtained from crushed rock sources. This is especially important because it's in bold and in all caps.
"A man-made fractured matter is too sharp and will compact," said Todd Knapton of the Toronto-area sand-and-aggregate supplier, which has vetted the FIVB surfaces since the Sydney Games.
It should feel like riding a bicycle on ball bearings. He said, "You labor through it." Kudos to them because these athletes are in remarkable shape. The sand has raised the bar."
WHERE IS THE BEACH?
The only reason for putting a beach volleyball court on a beach is to create an atmosphere. Sand is often trucked in and is at most cleaned and sifted. The Olympic venue is often far away from the water.
The venue for the Olympic sport was Jonesboro, Georgia. It was located outside of Atlanta. Four years later, the event was held at Sydney's Bondi Beach. The competition used local sand, which was removed of rocks and shells for safety.
Knapton, a vice-president of Hutcheson Sand Mixes, said that they just gave the sand some TLC. "We just gave it some love and fluffed them up."
Athens established the venue in Faliro on the coast, but the sand came from Belgium. Beijing hosted the beach volleyball in a park. The original plan was to have it in Tiananmen Square. This would be a reminder of the 1989 student protester massacre by the government. (The sand was brought from Hainan Island in southern China.
Horse Guards Parade was London's venue. This location was set in the background of Big Ben's pealing and sand brought up from Brighton. Rio de Janeiro was the location, with the seashore at Copacabana where the crashing waves mixed in with the sounds recreational beach volleyball players right outside the stadium gates.
CAN IT REALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
While players may practice on a beach, they still rely on the competition surfaces for consistency.
It is important to have the right sand, especially when it rains. This happened in Rio and Beijing for the gold medal matches. A typhoon swept through Tokyo during the preliminary round and dumped water on the court as well as the players.
The rain compresses the sand, making it easier for barefoot players jump, spike and move. However, there was not a single puddle.
Knapton stated, "You could literally have the monsoon pass through or a firetruck attempt to flood it." "That's when it makes you feel good."