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Indoor Volleyball Players: ‘Remember Us?’

July 18, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ Tammy Liley gets tired of answering the same old question: ``So, do you play beach volleyball?″

No, she doesn’t, but those repeated queries sum up the plight facing those who play indoor volleyball, which now has an adjective tied to its name even though it was an Olympic sport long before they started stringing up nets on the beach.

``It’s a little disappointing,″ said Tara Cross-Battle, one of the best indoor players in the world and Liley’s teammate on the U.S. team that will be a medal contender in Atlanta. ``You look at all the magazines and they’re so into beach volleyball right now.″

Yes, the indoor players are growing a little resentful of all the attention, all the TV coverage, all the money that’s going to the beach crowd _ not to mention the idea they can now win a gold medal.

``I think a lot of people, especially among the women, who are good beach volleyball players were mediocre indoor players,″ U.S. women’s coach Terry Liskevych said.

That is an issue of some dispute, but there is no question that indoor volleyball has a much longer Olympic tradition, having been a medal sport since the 1964 Tokyo Games.

Beach volleyball? It’s a johnny-come-lately, hardly played on a competitive level outside of California until the last decade.

Still, the sport turned out to be a natural for TV, with oceans in the background and tanned, toned bodies in the foreground. Now, it will make its Olympic debut in landlocked Atlanta, where a lakefront south of the city is being transformed into Daytona North with tons of trucked-in sand.

``Madison Avenue loves beach volleyball right now,″ Liskevych admitted. ``They lead more of the American lifestyle, with the beach, the sun, the uniforms.″

That last thing is another point of contention. There are many who believe beach volleyball’s enormous rise in popularity is attributed largely to the skimpy uniforms and sex appeal.

``Do you think we should start wearing swimsuits?″ two-time Olympian Carem Kemner asked facetiously.

Despite sharing the same name and basically the same purpose, the indoor brand of volleyball is distinctly different from the beach version. The teams are larger (six-person squads indoors, two outdoors) and the rallies are longer (the extra players and hard, indoor surface make it tougher to hit winners).

Though indoor volleyball remains a popular participatory sport, it’s never made much of a dent with the general public other than in Olympic years. Part of the blame must rest with those in charge of promoting the sport, since they failed to capitalize on the popular men’s teams that captured gold in 1984 and ’88.

``We didn’t do enough to support the kids coming up through the system,″ Kemner said. ``They expect you to come along every four years and dominate, but no one wants to pay attention between those years.″

Some people think indoor volleyball, played in best-of-five matches with 15-point games, should adopt a time limit as is done on the beach volleyball circuit. TV loves to know how long the matches are going to last, and that’s impossible with indoor volleyball.

But those who will be going for the gold indoors starting Saturday don’t think any changes are needed, except better promotion.

``When people finally come watch our game, they’re hooked,″ Cross-Battle said. ``The hard part is getting people in the gym.″

And keeping them off the beach. Some members of the American indoor team even plan to switch sports once the Olympics are over.

``I’m not a great beach person,″ Kemner said, pointing to her blonde hair, blue eyes and fair skin. ``But I have a good body type and the right mentality to play on the beach. I’m going to test it and see if I like it.″

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