Jeremiah Spikehead could hardly believe it when he was selected to play volleyball at the Sydney Olympics. It was a dream come true: his chance to represent his country at his chosen sport.
He got a big shock, however, the day he turned up at the venue marked down in his program for day one of competition.
"Excuse me," he asked a marshal he found among the milling crowd. "I think there's been a terrible mistake. This is a beach."
"Of course it's a beach, mate," said the marshal. "That's why they call it Bondi Beach."
"But there's sand?" exclaimed Jeremiah.
"Of course, there's sand. It's a beach," said the marshal again. "Where else would you play beach volleyball?"
"BEACH volleyball!" said Jeremiah, gasping.
No one had told him about this. He had been told he was in the Vulgarian volleyball team, but had he assumed it was indoor volleyball.
In hindsight, he knew he should have twigged when only he and another man were picked for the team.
Volleyball - which has been part of the Olympics since 1964 - involves teams of 12 players, of whom six are on the court at any one time.
Beach volleyball - which became an official Olympic medal sport only in Atlanta in 1996 - needs only two competitors a side.
Jeremiah surveyed his new surroundings.
There were 10,000 people in the stands.
The court looked the same dimensions as indoor volleyball - 18 metres by nine metres. The net was set at 2.43 metres high for the men's event and 2.24 metres for the women's event.
In both forms of the game, each team can touch the ball three times before hitting it over the net. The aim is to force the ball to bounce on the other side or make the opposition hit it out.
Unlike indoor volleyball, beach volleyball is played on a surface of loose sand.
Jeremiah looked around more closely.
There was sun and, not far away, surf.
There was also loud rock music blaring between plays - and shapely female competitors in bikinis.
Jeremiah weighed up his position.
On one hand, he was not sure this was the kind of sport the inventors of the Ancient Olympics actually had in mind for the future. But heck, synchronised swimming and triathlon had both got a guernsey. So anything was possible.
Also, Jeremiah came from a cold, landlocked country and had not actually see a beach before, let alone played beach volleyball.
On the other hand, he thought, soaking up the sun and perving at, er, taking in the scenery, he could get used to this environment very easily.
Besides, the whole of Vulgaria was behind him.
Him, Jeremiah Spikehead, a simple village boy who had been propelled into big-time international sport.
There had been much celebrating when he was selected, and many, many fundraising events were held just to get him to Sydney.
Vulgaria was a poor country, and its government had no spare money to support athletes.
Countless jars of Vulgarian snow pea relish had been sold at countless fairs to help raise his fare.
Jeremiah simply could not let his supporters down.
He dearly wanted to stand proud on the victory dais and mouth along to the words of the Vulgarian national anthem, a tune that had barely been heard outside of his tiny, little-known country.
He wanted to do it for his people, no matter how strange this new sport seemed.
Among the throng, he found his playing partner, Cedric Twirlaroundveryfast, who was similarly inclined to give it a go.
Cedric could not understand either why there had to be two versions of volleyball.
The Olympics had not felt inclined to have a beach 100-metre sprint. How fast would Maurice Greene run in soft sand?
Nor was there beach tennis. This type of surface would certainly take the zing out of serves.
Nor even was there beach Greco-Roman wrestling. How long would a wrestler be able to maintain a full half-nelson hold with grains of sand down his tights irritating his nether regions?
Jeremiah and Cedric got ready for their beach volleyball debut.
They stripped down to their undies, seeing as they didn't bring any bathers with them.
They put zinc cream on their noses and borrowed a couple of hats from kind people in the crowd.
One was a very wide-brimmed Mexican hat and the other was a hat fashioned from empty beer cans.
Finally, they were called for their game.
It was their big moment; their moment of truth.
The two countrymen shook hands and assumed their positions on the court.
The official Olympic records will record that Jeremiah Spikehead and Cedric Twirlaroundveryfast did not win that, their only, game.
But they did get to stand on the victory dais.
In fact, a special dais had to be built to accommodate a new category.
They missed the gold medal, they missed the silver medal, they missed the bronze medal.
But the Vulgarians won the prize for building the best sandcastle during an elimination game.
©2000 John Martin. All Rights Reserved