A game with sea and sun

One of the newer sports in international competition, the popularity of beach volleyball in Greece has grown rapidly in recent years. National junior-level competitions organized by Greece’s sports federation as part of a development program has also drawn young people to the game. Reflecting beach volleyball’s dynamic growth in recent years, national junior-level competition drew 113 teams to Anavyssos, south of Athens, this summer. Another 85 teams competed in games held in Hania, Crete, and about as many teams have shown up for competitions in other parts of the country. Giorgos Gagalis, head of the Greek Beach Volleyball Federation’s development program, said his organization is implementing a long-term approach to the sport. «Since 2000, we’ve been implementing a long-term plan that was conceived by the federation’s board and its president, Thanassis Beligratis,» Gagalis said. «We’ve been very lucky because there were positive results from early on. Of course, I’m referring to the gold medal won at the Europeans in 1999 by [Thalia] Koutroumanidou and [Roula] Theodorou. Since then, there have been more distinctions at world and European level, which is proof of existing talent at junior level.» This has driven beach volleyball enthusiasts to work harder toward the successfully transition from junior-level to senior-level competition for both men and women, he said. «That’s the objective of every development program. Vicky Arvaniti ? who, along with Vasso Karantasiou make up the best Greek team, and one of the world’s best ? is a brilliant example,» Gagalis said. The sport’s junior-level scene is much humbler and less commercial than beach volleyball’s senior-level competitions. The federation covers the expenses of junior-level teams who make it to national competition. The rest of the young athletes are funded by their parents. The federation is trying to keep the lure of money out of the equation for nascent beach volleyball athletes, Gagalis said. «Youngsters must first learn the game. We offer what they need, but there’s no money, because at these age levels, monetary rewards are detrimental when combined with sports,» he said. For those young players, one of the sport’s main relative advantages is the ability to combine it with summer holidays. «It’s exciting and can be combined with holidays, sea and sun,» said Yiannis, a 19-year-old active in the sport. «The more you work at it, the more you get in return,» added 16-year-old Anastassia Katzika, who topped junior-level competitions held in Hania and Zagora in Epirus this summer with her playing partner, Eleftheria Diamanti.