Looking beyond the bikinis

With so much fuss over the bikinis the women wear in beach volleyball, what about what the men wear? Would it bring more attention to the men’s game if, instead of board shorts and tank tops, they wore nothing more than a very tight Speedo?

“I think it would, but I don’t think it would be a positive effect,’’ 2008 gold medalist Todd Rogers said with a laugh. “It just doesn’t look as beautiful. The reality is men are driven more by their vision and women are not, so I just don’t think it would help. I’ve practiced in Brazil where the Brazilians are wearing Speedos and it just doesn’t look good. To see a guy’s package is just not the same.

“I would fight that tooth and nail, quite frankly.’’

OK, maybe the Speedo is a little over the top. But perhaps losing the shirts for a “Top Gun’’ effect?

“We argue for that all the time,’’ April Ross said. “Men have such amazing bodies, too. They shouldn’t be wearing tank tops. Give them shorts and make them go without a shirt.’’

The bikinis became a topic when it was announced earlier this year that women can wear sleeved tops or full-body suits at the Olympics if they wish.

“We think it’s a great thing for the sport,’’ said Ross’ partner, Jen Kessy. “We want women of all different religions and from across the world to play our sport. To not be able to play because of the attire is not OK for use. So for them to wear more modest attire is great.

“We’re not uncomfortable in our bikinis. We grew up in southern California, and that’s what you wear in the summertime, from when you’re a little kid until now. That’s the most comfortable thing for us to wear. We can stylize our bikinis the way we want; they can be bigger, they can be smaller. It’s what we’re comfortable wearing. And if it is cold, we can put clothes on.’’

And they might have to occasionally. Many matches will be held in the evening, with some scheduled to run close to 11 at night. The weather hasn’t been an issue so far this hot, sunny week, but it could be if the climate returns to the cool, wet pattern that has persisted over London much of the summer.

Either way, the American men and women are strong gold-medal candidates. Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh won gold in both 2004 and 2008 before separating as a team briefly, then coming back together for the London Games. They are third in the Olympic rankings behind Brazil’s Larissa and Franca and Juliana Silva and China’s Xue Chen and Zhang Xi. Kessy and Ross are ranked fourth.

Told that Silva dreams of playing her in the Olympic final, May-Treanor replied, “I have a dream that I beat her in the Olympic finals.’’

Rogers and partner Phil Dalhausser won gold in Beijing and are first in the Olympic rankings, with fellow Americans Jake Gibb And Rosenthal No. 4.

The two said they feel less pressure than 2008 because they already have a gold medal and will try to enjoy the entire Olympic experience a little more than in Beijing. “I look at this as a great opportunity to add the cherry on top and the whipped cream and all the extra sprinkles,’’ Rogers said. “Having Misty and Kerri be our guides through all this has motivated us, and we’ve copied what they’ve done.’’

May-Treanor and Walsh are trying to become the first pair to win three consecutive gold medals in beach volleyball in what Misty said will be her final tournament.

“We obviously want to go for No. 3, but you still have to enjoy the process. You have to enjoy every moment you’re on the sand,’’ she said. “For me, this is my last Olympics, so I’m going to enjoy the journey. I’m going to enjoy every practice. I’m going to take everything in. I’m going to let the blinders open. … So for me, this is the little condiments you’re adding. Not sprinkles. This is my hot chocolate.’’

Aside from the marathon and road cycling route, beach volleyball has the best venue of the Olympics. Although Olympic Park lacks character and is far to the east of central London, the beach volleyball court is at the Horse Guards Parade grounds near some of the city’s most historic and hallowed locations, such as Parliament, Big Ben and No. 10 Downing Street. It should make for a very interesting contrast.

“That’s what our sport is all about,’’ Ross said. “We like to go to places where it’s a little bit shocking for people. That draws them in, and then once they see the athleticism of our sport, they’re hooked on it. So I think the clash will bring some people in who want to see it, and that’s why they event is so popular. And then hopefully we gain lifetime fans because they truly appreciate.

“We feel so blessed to play there. It’s such an historic site, and I think we got the best location of the Olympics.’’