Watch the Polish men's volleyball team play at the Olympics this week, and it will seem as though its matches must be taking place in Warsaw instead of London.
Thousands of costume-clad, flag-waving Polish fans turn Earls Court into a sea of red for every match, roaring for every Polish point, whistling before every opposing serve and belting out familiar songs during breaks in the action. It's the closest fans at any event at the London Games have come to recreating the intimidation factor of a college basketball student section.
There's a guy in a full-body Scooby Doo costume with a Polish jersey over the top. There's somebody else clad in a cardboard helmet and suit of armor with a Polish flag as a cape. And there are hundreds of others wearing red and white face paint, mohawk wigs or goofy hats with "Polska" scrawled on them.
"In Poland we have become celebrities, we cannot go around freely any more, but it is a little bit too much," Italian-born Polish coach Andrea Anastasi told Reuters earlier this week. "We haven't won anything important yet."
Volleyball's surging popularity in Poland mirrors the country's recent run of success in the sport. Poland medaled at the 2006 World Championships for the first time in more than three decades, finished second at the 2011 FIVB World Cup and defeated the United States in the finals of the World League earlier this summer to capture its first title.
That run of success has established Poland as one of the favorites entering the Olympics even though the country has not medaled since winning gold in Montreal in 1976. Russia, the U.S. and Brazil are among the other medal contenders.
Poland suffered an upset loss to Bulgaria in its second group play match earlier this week, but it has performed well in its other matches, dismantling Italy and Argentina. Up next for Poland is a match against Great Britain, which should be interesting in at least one regard.
It will likely be one of the few events at the London Olympics where the host country does not have home court advantage.
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