HarborView's an Olympic beach Volleyball trials set to begin today

June 04, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The makeshift beach is in and the U.S. Olympic beach volleyball trials begin today at a temporary 4,500-seat arena built for the occasion near HarborView. Now, it's just a matter of filling all those seats and enjoying Baltimore's Olympic moment in the sun.

Ticket sales have not been brisk, but organizers remain confident that the trials will be both a financial success and an impressive civic event. Though only about 4,000 of the 19,000 available tickets have been sold for the five-day qualifying tournament, they point to past beach volleyball events as proof that it appeals largely to a walk-up crowd.

"Historically, these kind of events are walk-up events," said Lance Lowenstein of the Bozzuto and Lowenstein Marketing Group, which is running the event for the Maryland Sports Corp. in conjunction with USA Volleyball. "In the two years we had the AVP [Association of Volleyball Professionals] here, we didn't pre-sell one ticket and we averaged 3,000 tickets per day for a two-day event."

This wouldn't even be an issue on the West Coast, where beach volleyball was born and AVP events have drawn up to 15,000 to sun-drenched sites along the Southern California shoreline. But there isn't an ocean beach within 100 miles of Baltimore and the weather doesn't always cooperate with outdoor events.

"Obviously, there is going to be a difference between the East Coast and West Coast in terms of popularity," said Olympic hopeful Randy Stoklos of Pacific Palisades, Calif., who along with teammate Adam Johnson will take the court seeded second for today's preliminary in the men's double-elimination draw. "In half of our events, you can't fit another person on the beach and the other half are at sites where the happening hasn't been established."

There will be some competition from the Orioles, who return to Camden Yards tonight to open a six-game homestand that includes two weekend games that are in direct conflict with the afternoon qualifying finals just a few blocks away.

The weather could become a factor, with showers possible for today's eight-hour schedule of preliminary matches.

Still, the lure of the Olympic experience should have a major impact on walk-up attendance, especially in the later rounds of the men's and women's competitions. And the festive, beach-oriented environment should bring in the youthful party crowd.

The popularity of beach volleyball was evident by its lightning-fast adoption as a full-medal Olympic sport, and tickets to the Olympic matches sold out faster than all but two other sports.

It must be a big deal. The "Oprah Winfrey Show" filmed a segment with the No. 1 seeded men's team of Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes during yesterday's impromptu practice session.

Fans in Baltimore may see a more competitive tournament, since the sport is dominated by Americans, and only three U.S. men's and women's teams will go on to Atlanta. The top-rated men's and women's teams in the FIVB rankings already have qualified for the Olympics, but the remaining teams will be determined this week at HarborView.

Pub Date: 6/04/96

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