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Olympic beach volleyball looks so out of place in London

Cloudy skies are pictured behind Admiralty Building next Beach Volleyball Venue during beach volleyball match 2012 Summer Olympics Sunday July

Cloudy skies are pictured behind the Admiralty Building next to the Beach Volleyball Venue during a beach volleyball match at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Sunday, July 29, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

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Updated: September 1, 2012 6:12AM

LONDON — God bless Boris Johnson. Of the Olympic female beach-volleyball players here, the mayor of London wrote recently:

“They are glistening like wet otters.’’

That’s a great line, and what’s even greater is that whatever your fearless correspondent might write about those athletes, it can’t be as wonderfully indelicate as that.

Welcome to London and beach volleyball. If you’re looking for incongruity, this would be Ground Zero. Here you’ll find bikini-clad women competing on sand next to 10 Downing Street, home of the prime minister, and surrounded by a forest of gray domes and steeples.

“I still am amazed they got the permission to have the beach-volleyball competition here,’’ Prince Albert of Monaco said Monday, smiling.

It’s a stunning setting, the jewel of these Olympics and the go-to event for photographers and cameramen wanting to get the iconic shot of the Games. It’s also a mecca for horn-dog lechers who have come to watch women in bikinis hug each other.

I know: The men are here to see the competition. And people buy Playboy for the articles.

The guards change at Buckingham Palace not far from the venue, and Queen Elizabeth II in all her regal dowdiness is somewhere about. Here on Horse Guards Parade, site of the beach-volleyball competition, we have a conga line of cheerleaders in swimsuits dancing for the fans during a break in the action. There’s a decent chance that someone will have to use shock paddles on the queen before it’s all over.

But this isn’t a desecration so much as it’s a celebration. Anyway, if a knighthood can be bestowed on Mick Jagger, all bets are off, aren’t they?

Tragedy struck the beach-volleyball competition Saturday night, when Americans Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor wore long-sleeved shirts because the temperature was 55 at the start of their match. The pair again played at 11 p.m. London time on Monday because NBC wanted to show the women in prime time in the United States. The network knows where its bread is tanning-buttered, or something like that.

There are new rules governing clothing for women’s beach volleyball. To encourage participation by athletes from countries with dress codes for women, competitors now can wear shorts, with a choice of sleeved or sleeveless tops. I think we can all agree this is a very good thing.

Many of the Olympians say their bikinis have nothing to do with sex and everything to do with comfort. On the other hand, male beach-volleyball players don’t play in Speedo briefs. They wear shorts and T-shirts.

“We like to play in bikinis; we love our bikinis; we train in bikinis,’’ Germany’s Ilka Semmler said. “It’s not a topic with us because what we wear is comfortable, and we feel good in it.’’

Semmler was still wiping sand off her body after she and teammate Katrin Holtwick lost to Brazil’s Juliana Silva and Larissa Franca, the reigning world champions.

“If you go to the beach and play volleyball, you normally do that in your bikini and shorts, so why not do that on the court here also?’’ she said. “Yeah, bikini bottoms can be small, but every team can decide how small they’re going to be. If they want to sell sex, then maybe.’’

What women’s volleyball is selling has been a topic of debate for years. In 1996, American Nancy Reno dumped volleyball partner Holly McPeak after McPeak had breast implants. Reno reportedly was upset that McPeak would have the surgery at a time when the sport was looking for an image change. The two got back together in time for the 1996 Olympics. I’m talking about the team, not the breasts.

Beach volleyball seems more comfortable with itself now. Walsh has described bikinis as functional and “sassy.’’

“The people who own the sport [the International Volleyball Association] want it to be sexy,” Great Britain’s Denise Johns told the Sunday Times of London. “I used to play in shorts and a T-shirt and was reluctant to change. But if it gets volleyball attention, so be it.”

You couldn’t help but notice the sport in the heart of London. Horse Guards Parade is named after the soldiers who have protected the royal family since 1660. The Horse Guards building next to the parade grounds is 267 years old. With all the gray or white buildings in the background, the Brazilians’ green-and-yellow bikinis looked like a bucket of paint splashed on the 18th century.

It was sunny and 66, and if it weren’t for Big Ben standing watch not far from the venue, you might have thought you were in California.

But this was London, and this was beach volleyball. And so we intently studied competitors as they gave hand signals behind their bikinied butts to teammates. God save the queen.

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