London 2012 Olympic Volleyball Venue: Earls Court Continues Building Rich History

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Centuries of tradition will continue at the 2012 London Olympics as volleyball heats up in Earls Court. The iconic central London venue has played host to everything from the world's first water flume ride to manufacturing World War II air defense balloons to standing room only Elton John concerts.

History: Earls Court started out as an open rural area. In the early 1800s, two railway stations were built across the grounds and early entrepreneurs saw an opportunity to use the ground as an exhibition site.

By the late 19th century, the site had hosted Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and showcased the largest Ferris wheel-type ride in the world. The wheel was later dismantled, and a flume ride was built in its place.

Building Earls Court: The open-air venue was enclosed by 1937, with the goal to rival and other exhibition hall in the world. Construction was especially tricky, as it took place over the top of four separate railways.

The site includes a gigantic swimming pool that holds over 2 million gallons on the first floor. The second floor hosts a huge exhibition hall. The two floors together give rise to over 42,000 square meters of usable space.

Historic Moments: Earls Court opened for its first show on Sept. 1, 1937, the Chocolate and Confectionery Exhibition. Shortly after, the Motor and Commercial Vehicle shows were held in the venue.

The venue's prowess was cemented when the Winter Cavalcade was showcased in December 1938. A giant ski run extended the length of the exhibition hall, and over 350,000 attended the event.

Since then Earls Court has hosted opera, music, and sporting events galore. Boxing, wrestling, gymnastics, and weight lifting competitions were held there during the 1948 Olympic Games. Music artists like the Rolling Stones, Spice Girls, Madonna, and U2 have played to sold-out crowds.

Volleyball at Earls Court: On July 27, 2012, roughly 15,000 screaming fans will converge on Earls Court to watch the United States defend its 2008 gold medal in men's volleyball. The reigning champions claim, "Earls Court is one of the best volleyball venues they have played in."

Spectators must come prepared for long lines and tight security. Site coordinators suggest bringing as little as possible to the venue. Planning to arrive at least two hours before the ticketed event is also recommended.

Kathryn Walsh played indoor volleyball in junior high and high school. Once in college on the California coast, she discovered beach volleyball. She has been an avid fan and occasional player since.

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