Away from spotlight, players test out Rio sand

The day before their first match on Saturday, Dutch pair Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen hopped in a taxi with their coaches and started playing volleyball on a beach in Barra da Tijuca, a well-heeled coastal neighbourhood that is home to most Olympic venues.

Despite beach volleyball’s laid-back vibe, athletes are intensely focused on the Games and many shuttle between the gym and their matches, leaving little time for fun.   -  Getty Images

Some beach volleyball players have sneaked out of the Olympic circuit to hit Rio’s beaches and play the game just like any other sun-loving Brazilian.

The day before their first match on Saturday, Dutch pair Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen hopped in a taxi with their coaches and started playing volleyball on a beach in Barra da Tijuca, a well-heeled coastal neighbourhood that is home to most Olympic venues.

At first, the Brazilians playing beach volleyball - one of the city’s most popular sports - didn’t realise they had Olympic athletes next door.

“After several minutes, once we started hitting, they did,” a grinning Brouwer, 26, told Reuters, adding the experience was unique.

“That was awesome, this typical Brazilian, Rio feeling,” he added.

Despite beach volleyball’s laid-back vibe, athletes are intensely focused on the Games and many shuttle between the gym and their matches, leaving little time for fun.

At these Olympics, for the first time since Sydney in 2000, beach volleyball is being played on a real stretch of sand - and in Copacabana to boot.

Venturing outside the 12,000-person, purpose-built arena allows athletes to get a feel for Brazil beyond the sometimes sterile Olympic venues or multi-cultural Olympic village.

“The people are always friendly and they love beach volleyball,” said Louise Bawden of Australia, who played on Rio’s famous Ipanema beach.

“A few people got photos.”

But with athletes intent on advancing in the world’s biggest sporting event, some say Rio’s palm tree-studded beaches aren’t yet on the agenda.

“Time for the beach is after,” said Austria’s Alexander Huber

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