Olympic beach volleyball hopefuls head to Pimlico
The road to the Triple Crown meets the road to the London Olympics on Saturday when American beach volleyball hopefuls take to the sand on the infield at Pimlico.
For the second straight year, the nascent National Volleyball League will open its season with an event held in conjunction with the Preakness, taking the stage in the often wild, party-like atmosphere found on the infield of the aging horse racing course in Baltimore.
Reigning Olympic gold medalists Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers will be among those competing for the $50,000 purse, with the semifinals and finals scheduled to take place just before Kentucky Derby winner I'll Have Another heads into the starting gate.
''It should be cool,'' said Dalhausser, will be making his domestic debut in the run-up to his second Olympic Games. ''I imagine a lot of people will be partying there. It should be crazy.''
When the AVP tour suspended operations in 2010, it left precious few opportunities for American players to compete domestically. This is likely the only time Olympic hopefuls such as Jen Kessy and April Ross play in the United States before heading to London.
''We get to play in the center of a racetrack, which we've never done before,'' Kessy said Tuesday during a gathering of Olympic hopefuls in Dallas. ''We've played under the Eiffel Tower, but never in the center of a racetrack.''
This isn't the first time 200 tons of sand has been dumped on the infield at Pimlico. The Pro Beach East Volleyball Tour launched its season there in 2009, and last year, the National Volleyball League opened its first full season during Preakness weekend.
''The Maryland Jockey Club has tried to create a new dynamic in the infield and the proof is in the pudding this year with the Olympic teams competing at Pimlico on Preakness Day,'' Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas said. ''What a big coup for us to have Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers here just two months prior to the London Games.''
The infield at Pimlico has long belonged to a younger generation.
Grammy Award winners Maroon 5 and multi-platinum rapper Wiz Khalifa are scheduled to perform this year, along with British rockers The Darkness and Nashville-based country music band Little Big Town, the stages set amidst numerous vendor stands where beer tends to flow like water.
The volleyball tournament begins Friday at Baltimore Beach, with the semifinals and finals moving to the infield on Saturday. The men's final is scheduled for 2 p.m. and the women's final at 3:30 p.m., with post time for the 137th Preakness Stakes at 6:18 p.m.
''We're really excited about this,'' said Kessy, who along with Ross narrowly missed qualifying for the Beijing Olympics. ''And to get to play on U.S. soil is kind of rare these days.''
While the AVP tries to reorganize, the best chance for elite players to compete comes through FIVB stops in far-flung places such as Brazil and the Czech Republic. Dalhausser and Rogers, for example, just finished a two-week stay in China.
All the extra time on the road creates major hurdles in training and nutrition, and could ultimately affect the performance of the U.S. team in London.
''It's sad, because it was the other way around,'' Kessy said. ''It used to be that we played in the domestic tour and we chose the FIVB's that we wanted to play in, but hopefully that will change. Cross our fingers.''