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Beach volleyball gets royal touch at 2012 Games

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Beach volleyball gets royal touch at 2012 Games

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LONDON – When the Queen of England decides at some point over the next 12 months which Olympic events she wishes to visit, she will have plenty of options.

Top of the list will surely be equestrian, due to her love of horses and her daughter Princess Anne's participation in that event in the 1976 Games, perhaps followed by shooting, another traditional royal pursuit.

The signature track and field events must certainly get consideration, as will the tennis tournament to be held on the stately lawns of Wimbledon, where Her Majesty cheered on Andy Murray last year.

But what about beach volleyball?

Enough of the snickering there in the corner, because it is not as absurd a suggestion as you might think. After all, the popular event that sees bronzed and sparsely-covered bodies do battle on the sand won't take place anywhere near the seaside but rather smack in the heart of central London – and right on the Queen's doorstep.

By choosing to host the beach volleyball competition on Horse Guards Parade, just a powerful spike away from Buckingham Palace and St. James Palace, Games organizers just might have hit the jackpot.

The Parade is a spectacular area in a beautiful part of London, as you might expect for a location so near to a royal residence. It is an historic ceremonial ground, where knights took part in jousting events witnessed by thousands as far back as the 1600s.

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More recently, it has been used to stage the Trooping of the Colour, where the various regiments of the British armed forces perform in parade to celebrate the Queen's official birthday.

And in April, the Parade was part of the processional route traveled by the newly-married royals, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (or the artists formerly known as William and Kate).

Placing beach volleyball here took some political creativity, as it lies in the borough of Westminster, several miles removed from the Olympic epicenter in the east London district of Stratford. But it figures to be well worth the trouble.

"It will be spectacular and iconic and a marvelous thing for our Games," said Lord Sebastian Coe, Olympic 1500-meter track champion in 1980 and 1984 and now chairman of the London organizing committee. "To have such an exciting event in a place steeped in tradition is a wonderful mix, and I have every confidence that it will be one of the highlights."

Beach volleyball has been met with strong support at every Games after being introduced as a medal sport at Atlanta in 1996. With its upbeat music and party atmosphere, it usually attracts some of the liveliest crowds of the Games, and demand for the London sessions has been high.

Part of that has to do with the event itself, although there is strong evidence to suggest that the public has already bought into the novelty value in having a modern event in an historic location.

"It is going to be awesome," said American and two-time reigning gold medalist Kerri Walsh. "It is going to be different in a fun way, and we will really get to feel like we are part of the city and the excitement."

When London won the right to stage the 2012 Olympic Games, a huge part of its campaign focused on the unique and iconic venues it was able to lay claim to. Each had a kind of perfect symmetry to them and seemed to be the most natural of fits: tennis at Wimbledon, soccer at Wembley Stadium, a gleaming new Olympic track arena in the east end of the city, where many of Britain's finest athletes have emerged from.

Scantily clad athletes playing volleyball on transplanted sand just outside Buckingham Palace bucks that trend, but does so in a thoroughly welcome fashion. A mix of iconography with modernity is exactly the message London is trying to project with these Games.

Time will tell whether the London Olympics' most spectacular venue gets the royal seal of approval.

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