Did somebody put Hugh Hefner in charge of the Games when I wasn’t looking? At a press conference last week featuring the British women’s beach volleyball team, the first question to the athletes was: Will you promise to wear your bikinis even if it rains?
That question was followed, according to Reuters, by several more along the same lines, as if the reporters had had a collective stroke and the only word their brains could form was “bikini.” The male athletes sat there while no one asked them a question, because we already knew they weren’t going to wear bikinis. They were free to think about boring stuff like training routines and nutrition – not whether they’d be expelled from the competition if a stray hair escaped the vigilance of waxers. (I imagine the waxing team like a Formula One pit crew, sticky strips at the ready, with a bonus going to the first who screams, “Follicle popping, right cheek!”)
This year at the Olympics, the women’s beach volleyball teams have been given the option of wearing shorts and long-sleeved tops instead of bikinis, as a concession both to religious beliefs and a London summer that’s been more tsunami than Bondi. The prospect of clothing has disappointed some onlookers, who perhaps assumed they’d be getting a free mojito and a pole dance along with their tickets. The American team was quick to assure its fans that, for them, it was bikini or the highway.
In many ways, it feels like we’ve time-travelled to the Summer Games of 1960, with Rock Hudson and Doris Day as our bickering guides through the wormhole. It’s not just the fact that the Japanese and Australian men’s basketball teams got to fly business class while their female counterparts were back among the sardines, with their knees around their ears and some delicious enigma meat for consolation. Oh, no. It’s the way that the female athletes’ appearance continues to be such a bizarre and unpleasant distraction.