2015-10-03 19:15:00 CEST
Heads were turning at Fort Lauderdale Beach Park as beach volleyball players and fans alike spotted three iconic players from the past: José Geraldo Loiola of Brazil and Americans Randy Stoklos and Sinjin Smith – who, as it turns out, are pretty big fans themselves.
“What are you doing here?” That’s what people were asking José Loiola as he made his way to the VIP area at the Swatch Beach Volleyball FIVB World Tour Finals in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The 45-year-old is one of Brazil’s all-time beach volleyball greats, a man whom reigning World Champion Bruno Oscar Schmidt calls “an idol” for the current generation of players. The 1999 FIVB World Champion had flown in from California, where he’s lived for over 20 years. “Beach volleyball is my passion, and I came to this tournament because it’s a chance to see how the new guys in the sport are doing,” said Loiola. “The game has improved so much, and there’s so much more physicality out there. You know that the players here are the top of the top, so you don’t expect anything less than great games. Plus it’s an opportunity for spectators to come out and meet these new players.”
Loiola’s sentiment was shared by two American Hall of Famers who were also taking in the debut of the tournament that hosts only the world’s best teams. Sinjin Smith and Randy Stoklos, who together won the very first World Championships created by the FIVB (1987) and who have been driving forces in the development of the sport, had also made the trek from California.
“I think most people who have seen beach volleyball would not recognize this, because normally you have the guys out playing on the beach and people watching, but here you have a stadium that even has VIP facilities. Inside, the very best players in the world are playing, and there’s first-class treatment for the fans. It’s a great combo,” said Smith, 58.
Stoklos, 54, added, “I’m very proud that this is in the USA. It’s an opportunity for Americans to see top-notch players from around the world – well-conditioned athletes playing the game at a very high level.”
It’s easy to forget that at the time Stoklos and Smith got started in the 1970s, beach volleyball was still mainly a lifestyle sport.
“Competitive beach volleyballl was really only in Southern California at the time, but with development it has been exposed to not only the whole United States but the entire world,” Smith commented. “So when you look at the Olympics next year in Rio, it’ll be one of the biggest events ever in the Games, something the rest of the world really wants to see.”
Loiola is thrilled at the prospect of Olympic beach volleyball in his homeland, saying, “The people in Brazil are going to serve up all their hospitality – they’re going to give all their heart. Rio is a great city, and the crowd is just going to go off because the people really identify with beach volleyball, especially in Copacabana.”
In the meantime, with the Swatch Beach Volleyball FIVB World Tour Finals lineup including the men’s and women’s 2016 Olympic teams from Brazil, as well as European Champions, World Champions and Olympic medalists, the tournament offers a unique preview of the level of play audiences will experience in Rio.
Said Stoklos, “To see all the international teams playing at such a high level here, it’s an exciting time for us!”