McPeak performance Volleyball: When the photogenic athletes in this popular sport get wherever they're going, they'll probably find Holly McPeak is already there.

Beach Watch

June 08, 1996|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,SUN STAFF

So few hours in a day, so many sit-ups to do.

"I've only had time to do about half of them," Holly McPeak, beach volleyball's poster body, was saying around noon yesterday.

So that would be, how many?

"Eight hundred, I guess."

If McPeak is peeved at recent intrusions on her self-imposed boot camp -- there was a taping with Oprah in Chicago on Thursday, a slew of media interviews and promotions here yesterday -- you can't tell. Like many of the players on the pseudo-Santa Monica built off Key Highway for the U.S. Olympic beach volleyball trials, McPeak's eyes are cooly shielded behind reflective sunglasses.

But there's no mistaking who's behind these Oakleys. Even non-volleyball fans are getting to know McPeak and her famously sculpted (by exercise and the plastic surgeon's scalpel) body. She's been in the last two Newsweeks, the current Sassy and May's Vogue, and TV has been equally enamored with this steely diva of the dunes.

Even among the sport's elite, none of whom seem to have ever missed a workout, she stands out: To see her serve or spike is to see pure energy unleashed. She jumps into the air and seems to freeze there for a moment, gathering up a force field that when released sends the ball streaking over the net as her own body jackknifes in recoil.

"She trains 10 times more than the other women," says Marie Andersson, who with several other women joined McPeak for a pick-up game during a break from the day's real matches.

Andersson, eliminated in the earlier rounds, predicts that McPeak is setting a trend for the future -- as the money and attention to the game increases now that it's an Olympic sport, the stakes will grow and competitors will have to up the level of their training. McPeak, 27, is already there. Despite being, at 5-foot-7, noticeably shorter than her 6-foot and taller competitors, she is a powerhouse. With her on-again, off-again partner Nancy Reno, she has already qualified for the Olympics and thus was spared the grueling double-elimination matches for the other two team spots.

Success and fame, for herself and her sport, come with a price tag, though. McPeak has become the lightning rod for much of the sniping.

She's known as the "Body Nazi" for her endless sit-ups and breast enhancement surgery, which she's taken to neither confirming nor denying. (She's notably more endowed than her willowy competitors.) Then there's the soap opera of her troubled relationship with Reno, who has dumped her a couple )) of times, which in trickle-down fashion led to nearly all the top-seeded women changing partners in the crucial period before the Olympics.

"When you're No. 1 and on top," McPeak says, "people will do anything to knock you down."

McPeak says all her training is devoted to her game, not her looks. After injuring her back in high school -- she played volleyball both there and at UCLA -- she realized she needed to strengthen her stomach muscles. "Unfortunately it's become a big story," she says of her multiple crunches. People think I do them for the wrong reason. I had to build up my stomach. It's the center of your explosiveness."

With the swirl of controversy, it's no wonder she seems most comfortable on the court. Wearing short tight workout clothes over a bikini top, the darkly tanned McPeak practiced and played on a blisteringly hot court in between yesterday's semifinal matches. A crowd gathered as fans realized McPeak herself was out there, and cameras started clicking as she, Andersson, a stray audience member and eventually two other pros joined them.

"She keeps to herself," Andersson says. "She's very intense. She is a quiet storm."

Andersson, among the few players close to McPeak, says friendships, especially among the top players, can be difficult in this milieu. "You have to be careful, you are competing," Andersson says. "It's a cat fight out there."

McPeak prefers to keep a certain distance. "It's a business relationship," McPeak says flatly of Reno. "We get on the court, we take care of business."

The business of selling the sport, though, requires that she allow the media to intrude on her already full schedule of workouts -- four or five hours daily, preferably -- and the promotions she does for her sponsors, Speedo, Freestyle watches and Oakley sunglasses. And she's open to more, she specifically notes.

McPeak is also all business off the court: Her boyfriend gave her a personal finance book six months ago, and she's become a well-read investor. (Yesterday, her backpack included a Money magazine along with "The Tenth Insight," the sequel to "The Celestine Prophecy.") "Yesterday I bought some Oracle [stock] and some Johnson & Johnson," she says, adding that, in a vote of confidence for herself perhaps, she's also considering buying more Oakley and perhaps Authentic Fitness, which owns Speedo and may be bought by Warnaco.

Phew, killer spikes and stock advice, too. Is she the Olympic ideal to take us into the millennium or what?

"I am," she says without a lick of self-consciousness, "the best-conditioned athlete out here."

Pub Date: 6/08/96

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