The Association of Volleyball Professionals, or AVP, has been around for more than three decades; it claims the mantle of the nation’s premier beach volleyball association. It is headquartered in California where volleyball players are a product of the native soil and climate.
View of the stadium from Pier 25
This weekend New York City is the site of the third tournament (of eight) on AVP’s seasonal schedule – May through September. The competition takes place in a stadium erected on Pier 26, a brief walk from the Chambers Street IRT station. It began on Friday, June 9 and continues through Sunday, June 11. The sun, the water, the scantily clad, buff bodies are enough to make the AVP feel at home in California, but the backdrop of the Freedom Tower and its neighbors belies any such conclusion. The pier is festive, populated with games (many free), food trucks, sponsors’ displays and stores. Pier 25 to the south, hosting secondary volleyball courts, also hosts cafes, miniature golf, playgrounds, and sweeping Hudson views.
Players Fopma and Reeves cooling off during a time-out
Between moments of active play, music blares from ubiquitous loudspeakers. Admission to the tournament is both free and general – although paid tickets can gain you access to privileged areas and services. If you are ardent fans of the game; or to experience another aspect of the New York summer; if you want to see a burgeoning neighborhood unlike most in Manhattan or just to appreciate the sinewy athleticism, this is a place to be part of a novel New York event. The tournament semi-finals and finals will be played today starting at 10 a.m. The finals will be broadcast on NBC TV at 4:30 p.m. This is the third season New York has hosted a segment of the AVP tour and – you know – once it gains traction it will become ticketed and over-crowded; see it now if it has appeal. Bring a hat and sunscreen.
Volleyball is a game many of us played in our youths, but few of us have played the game on display here. This is two “man” volleyball – played on sand. That only two people can move rapidly enough to cover the acreage is astonishing. (The court is 9 x 9 meters on each side of the net.) To do that on sand is mind boggling. The players are generally tall, trim, lithe and almost universally ensconced behind large, opaque sunglasses. This tournament starts as a double elimination but becomes a simple elimination tournament half way through; the double elimination means that a losing team can earn its way back into competition for the win. That adds some spice. The draw here includes a number of Olympians, some medalists. Eighty five teams registered for this tournament; only four of each gender made it to the final draw. So you can expect the level of play to be high. For those in the know, notables on the roster include Ryan Doherty, Nick Lucena, Elsa Baquerizo McMillan, Kelly Claes, April Ross, Ricardo Santos, Reid Priddy, Jake Gibb, Xi Zhang and Sara Pavan (among others).
Players DiCello and Stockman signing souvenirs for the crowd
The sports pages may offer an analysis of play, prospects for specific teams, informed comments on strategy, player stats, etc. Although many in the crowd that proliferated in the stands on Saturday might also be able to do that, I cannot. But I can appreciate athleticism, passionately contested points, the sun and the breeze off the river and the excitement of competition – for prize money that still suggests the game is played for the joy of the competition.
This is sport at a professional level that is close enough for you to touch – in a setting that few can touch. The piers themselves may be a revelation given how lower Manhattan has developed in recent years. The surrounding neighborhood looks more like Seattle or San Francisco than the gritty city I first encountered when arriving in New York – albeit a tad taller – with charming cafes and spectacular vistas. The entire experience can be exhilarating. Carpe Diem. But do bring that hat and sunscreen.
Photos by Fred R. Cohen
Closing ceremonies for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio will be held this evening. Team USA has collected more than 100 medals. While that’s amazing, there’s another statistic we couldn’t help but notice. At the 2012 games in London, American women won 29 gold medals compared to 17 for American men. And, the women are on track to repeat that feat in Rio. On Team USA – girls rule!
We are proud of the athletic dominance exhibited by so many American women, but we are even more impressed by the way they managed other aspects of their Olympic journeys. All that pressure, so many interviews, and, every now and then, encountering situations that might have derailed a more seasoned politician or Hollywood star. Time and again, they said and did the right thing.
Let’s start with Katie Ledecky. The teenage swimming phenom from Bethesda, Maryland, collected five medals – four gold, one silver. She was inspirational. Each time she stressed the importance of working hard and setting goals. At a press conference she said: “I just work hard and try my best every time I step up on those blocks. I’m very goal-oriented. I’ve always set high goals for myself. When I was little I never dreamed of going to the Olympics, but once I did I wanted to do my very best at that level.”
Lilly King celebrates winning gold in the Women’s 100m Breaststroke Final
Teammate Lilly King will go home with two golds, but she also made headlines with her criticism of Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova who was permitted to swim in the Olympics despite two suspensions for doping. While some have come to Efimova’s defense, King shone a light on a controversy that continues to dog the Olympics and other sports. Athletes are right in demanding a level playing field, and King made that clear in her comments.
Madeline Dirado stunned herself by winning four medals in swimming events, including an individual gold for the 200 meter backstroke, while Simone Manuel became the first African-American woman to win an individual gold medal in swimming for the 100 meter freestyle. Other medal winners in the pool included Dana Vollmer and Allison Schmitt.
In track and field, Allyson Felix exhibited grace under pressure. After being denied the gold medal in the 400m when Shaunae Miller from the Bahamas dove across the finish line, Felix refrained from blaming her rival. Miller was within Olympic rules, but the Internet lit up with criticism for how she finished first. For her part, Felix, who still won the silver, took responsibility for the loss. “It wasn’t my best race,” she told reporters. “I felt like it got a little bit away from me.”
Felix chose her moment to fight back in the 4 x 100 relay when she failed to pass the baton to English Gardner after being bumped by a Brazilian runner. After an appeal, the U.S. relay team was allowed to run the heat alone on the track, resulting in the team qualifying for the finals. The Brazilian team was disqualified. And the U.S. went on to win the gold not only in that event, but also in the 4 x 400 relay. Yes!
Kerri Walsh Jennings was class personified, coming back with her teammate April Ross to win the bronze medal in beach volleyball, after the team fell to a dominant Brazilian team to lose the gold. Anyone watching Jennings celebrate the bronze would have thought she had indeed managed a three-peat in gold. Well done!
The trio of Brianna Rollins, Nia Ali, and Kristi Castlin swept the women’s 100m hurdles, the first 1-2-3 win for American women in track and field. And the win marked the first time a country had swept the top three spots in the 100 hurdles. That’s teamwork!
Ibtihaj Muhammad competes in the women’s individual sabre
Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first American athlete to compete in the Olympics wearing a hijab. She and her three teammates took home the bronze medal for saber fencing. She told CNN: “What I love about my experience here as a minority member of Team USA is that I’m able to encourage other youth to pursue their dreams, to not let other people dictate their journey for them.”
Moms everywhere were thrilled with Kristin Armstrong’s comments after she won gold in cycling. The 43 year-old told a press conference: “I think for so long we’ve been told that we should be finished at a certain age, and I think there are a lot of athletes out there that are showing that that’s actually not true.” Armstrong, who hugged her five year-old following the race, added: “For all the moms out there, I hope this was a very inspiring day.”
And the medals just kept coming. Tianna Bartoletta and Brittney Reese won gold and silver respectively in the women’s long jump. Michelle Carter won gold in the shot put. Helen Maroulis won the first wrestling gold for the U.S. Daliah Muhammad became the first U.S. woman to win an Olympic in the 400m hurdles. Ashley Spencer won the bronze. Gwen Jorgensen won the first American triathlete to won the gold medal. The Women’s Basketball Team obliterated Spain 101-72 to win their sixth gold medal in a row. And the Women’s Water Polo team swam to victory.
A very special mention to Abbey D’Agostino who helped one of her competitors during a collision during the 500m race. With neither of them able to medal, Abbey pulled her runner up and the two of them finished the race together. Sportsmanship worth more than gold.
Aliya Mustafina of Russia (L), Simone Biles of USA and Aly Raisman of USA during medal ceremony
Then, of course, we have the women’s gymnastic team consisting of Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez, Gabby Douglas, and Madison Kocian. The Final Five, as they dubbed themselves in a tribute to their longtime coach Márta Károlyi who is retiring after the Rio games, took home a total of nine medals, the first team to have that many from one Olympics since the USSR in 1972. They won the team gold besting China by a jaw-dropping 8.209 points. Biles collected four gold and one silver, while Rasiman now has a total of six Olympic medals. The women produced so many fantastic moments that TV commentators ran out of superlatives. Biles, especially, seems to defy gravity, particularly when she is airborne in her signature spin, The Biles.
Patriotic fever bubbles up during the Olympics. It’s easy to get misty-eyed listening to the Star-Spangled Banner played as our flag rises and the athletes on the podium try to control their emotions. This time around, many of us watching, at home, in stadiums, in bars, were not only proud to be Americans. We were proud to be women.
Top Photo: Simone Biles of United States competing on the balance beam.
All photos from Bigstock