Sand, sun and itsy-bitsy bikinis have all become synonymous with beach volleyball, but fans will notice some changes when the sport's elite vie for Olympic gold in London.
The bikinis aren't going anywhere, but they'll be joined by other uniform options that provide extra coverage for those wanting more modesty due to cultural and religious customs.
The updated regulations introduced longer tops, with or without sleeves, and shorts that are no more than 3 centimeters above the knees, as well as full body suits. In the past, female athletes were limited to a one-piece or two-piece bathing suit, or a body suit under the bikini for colder playing conditions. Men typically wear tank tops and shorts or body suits in colder weather.
The changes were approved this spring, but they have been under discussion for a couple of years. In 2010, the Federation Internationale de Volleyball, the Switzerland-based governing body for volleyball and beach volleyball, debuted a Continental Cup competition, which presented countries with a new way to qualify for the Olympics. But some were hesitant to participate, due to beach volleyball's barely there bathing suits.
The African Federation approached the organization about its uniform concerns, which prompted the talks about revising them.
The additional styles encourage more countries to get involved with beach volleyball, said FIVB press director Richard Baker. "We found through the Continental Cup tournament in terms of the participation it was over and above what we were expecting."
Many athletes, including Team USA members, likely will stick with the bikinis. They favor the mobility and breathability the bathing suit offers for playing in the sport's sandy conditions.
"It's something I really feel comfortable with. It's something I feel empowered by, not distracted with," said two-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh.
"I'm not a sex symbol. I'm an athlete," added Ms. Walsh, who will compete in London with partner Misty May-Treanor.
But how did the bikinis come to be in the first place?
Bathing suits as a norm for beach volleyball go back to the sport's recreational days as a game for friends and families to play at the beach. As the sport entered the competition world, the bathing suits naturally followed, Mr. Baker said.
Beach volleyball athletes -- and what they wear -- have garnered their share of sneers and cheers since the sport's Olympic debut in Atlanta in 1996. But critiques from some about the two-piece suit projecting female athletes in a sexualized light did not influence the uniform changes, Mr. Baker said.
"From our perspective, it's not exactly what the athletes are wearing [that counts], but what they're doing on the court."fashion - olympicsfeatures
Sara Bauknecht: email@example.com. First Published July 24, 2012 4:00 AM