Beach Volleyball Gets London in a Partying Mood

Boris Johnson, London's famously colorful mayor, drew the mockery of British tabloid headlines for gushing over beach volleyball in a valedictory column he wrote to celebrate his city's Olympics in Monday's Daily Telegraph.

"As I write these words there are semi-naked women playing beach volleyball in the middle of the Horse Guards Parade immortalized by Canaletto," said Johnson, who is getting a boost in the polls from his city's hitherto catastrophe-free Olympics.

He continued, to the delight of British newspaper editors, "They are glistening like wet otters and the water is splashing off the brims of the spectators' sou'westers. The whole thing is magnificent and bonkers."

His comparison of athletes to semiaquatic mammals aside, Johnson is hardly alone in his enthusiasm for the Olympic beach volleyball competition occurring steps from the prime minister's residence.

And there is much to be excited about. Although it made its Olympic debut only 16 years ago in Atlanta, beach volleyball has been drawing some of London's biggest crowds.

Some might attribute that to the notoriously revealing swimwear worn by the competitors. Indeed, the bikini-clad players have been a mainstay on the front pages of British tabloids, accompanied by headlines like the Daily Mirror's "Cheeky Girls on Parade!"

When the International Volleyball Federation relaxed the rules on clothing to allow players to cover more of their bodies up in anticipation of London's typical cold weather, the tabloids made no secret of their disappointment: "Beach Bummer," read a headline in the Sun.

So far, though, the weather has failed to bring about that dreaded outcome, with sun's rays at times heating the sand to uncomfortably high temperatures despite overcast skies.

The outfits of the Olympians are not the only thing whipping up excitement in the stands. The setting -- a stone's throw from Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and the Foreign office, and just inside the gate exclusively used by Queen Elizabeth to enter Buckingham Palace -- may be resplendent of imperial British grandeur, but the scene near the sand is one of constant partying.

Cheerleaders dance to the Benny Hill theme in 1950s-style swimsuits. Audience members are encouraged to take every chance they get to hoot and holler, as well as drink unlimited beer.

The Sun's Oliver Harvey was having so much fun that he could hardly contain himself. "It's just after 9 a.m. and I'm supping a lager next to a bloke dressed as an elf while air- clapping along to Queen's 'We Will Rock You,'" he wrote Sunday.

Harvey wrote that he had promised "to respect international Olympians at the peak of their powers after four years' training," but little of what followed had anything to do with the competitors' athleticism.

Ally Ross, listed as the paper's "beach volleyball correspondent," was less than subtle after he flipped on the BBC to begin watching what he expected to be a feast for the eyes.

"And what do I find at 2:25 p.m., the appointed time? MEN'S beach volleyball. Switzerland v. China. It's like drinking non-alcoholic lager."

That match happened to be an upset, as the Swiss Sascha Heyer and Seba Chevalier beat the Chinese Wu Penggen and Xu Linyin. In the women's competition, U.S. duo Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor extended their Olympic winning streak to 16 consecutive matches across three Olympics.

The drama at the net is bound to build as favorites from Brazil, the United States, Germany and Australia play for stakes climbing higher by the day. But if the past few days are any indication, most people will be directing their eyes elsewhere.