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Snow volleyball hopes to stake claim in Winter Olympics

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Beach volleyball is moving to the mountains and swapping its sand for snow.

A spinoff of the sun-splashed sport familiar to Summer Olympic fans and seaside frolickers, snow volleyball is spreading from the Alps to the Andes and making a run at the Winter Games. If all goes well, volleyball officials say, their sport would be the first to appear in both the Summer and Winter Olympics.

“Our key message is to be the No. 1 family sport in the world,” Fabio Azevedo, the general director of the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB), said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I think it fits perfectly to our plan.”

Itself an offshoot of the more traditional indoor game, beach volleyball has grown into one of biggest attractions of the Summer Games, thanks no doubt to the bikini and boardshorts uniforms and the party atmosphere.

Now the FIVB wants a piece of the Winter Olympics, and it sees snow volleyball as the way in. With a European tour already established, volleyball officials have set out an agenda that would bring the new snow sport to Asia, Argentina and the United States with an eye toward approval as a demonstration sport at the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.

“They want to push it ultimately to the Winter Olympics,” said Martin Kaswurm, whose company manages the Snow Volleyball European Tour. “It’s not something we put into the mouths of the FIVB. It’s something they had as a goal themselves.”

The continental circuit, which kicks off this weekend in the Czech ski resort of Spindleruv Mlyn, was officially sanctioned by volleyball’s European governing body for the first time last winter. Azevedo said the goal is to have a world tour next year and a fully-fledged world championship in 2019. A spot in the 2020 Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne — where the FIVB has its headquarters — is also on the federation’s radar.

From there, snow volleyball could apply for status as a demonstration sport at the 2022 Winter Olympics. Azevedo hopes to have at least an informal display at the Winter Games next year in Pyeongchang, South Korea, even if it’s just stringing up a net in a plaza somewhere.

“We definitely want to be there and show people what snow volleyball is like,” he said. “Being really conservative, in order to climb this mountain step by step, I think the Olympics in 2026.”

While Olympic ice hockey and field hockey have different rules, different equipment and different governing bodies, snow volleyball is almost identical to the beach game. The tactics and rules are also similar to the two-a-side beach sport, and many of the competitors come from beach volleyball.

“Basically, we’ve just changed the surface,” Kaswurm said. “They only thing different is that they wear soccer shoes.”

The atmosphere also resembles beach volleyball, with disc jockeys cranking out music and cheerleaders — in lederhosen instead of bikinis — pumping up the crowd .

“Music, it’s inside our DNA, man,” Azevedo said.

Usually there is a hot tub courtside, and traditionally the winners will jump in after their matches to celebrate (and warm up).

“If you’re brave enough and have your swimsuit — or not — you can just jump in. And with the drinks and other friends you can enjoy the view on the center court and all the mountains around,” said Bobb Kufa, the 2016 Czech beach champion. “Pure happiness.”

Austrian national champion Flo Schnetzer said the crowd especially loves the post-match hot tub celebration.

“The people laugh when they see people in their underwear jumping into the whirlpool,” he said. “It’s so much fun to play in such an amazing atmosphere and to play in such an amazing place. The crowd is really crazy; they love it. They like to party and they like to celebrate in the mountains.”

But playing on a mountain has its own challenges.

Mostly, because the snow is slicker than sand there is more of a premium on players who can read and react quickly than on tall ones who can block. It’s also easier to jump on the compacted snow, so shorter players can be more effective blockers and height is less of an advantage.

“Snow volleyball is for smart and flexible players,” Kufa said. “All the moves are much slower. That means you have to be smarter – especially in defense. You have to decide the direction you want to go, and that’s all. You can’t take it back – otherwise you find yourself on your back with the shoes up to the air.”

The thinner air also slows the players down.

“You can really feel it,” Schnetzer said. “It’s really intense after just a short time. So you need to be physically really well prepared to be able to play on the mountains.”

And let’s not forget the cold.

“It is a mountain, so you should be ready for weather changes and be prepared for all kinds of weather,” Kufa said.

So far, the tournaments have been scheduled at resorts — with free admission — as something for the skiers to watch when they need a break. For the players at an event in Iran earlier this month, it was a quick diversion from the Kish Island beach event scheduled the following week.

That’s one big advantage snow volleyball has over other sports trying to join the Olympic program: It already has a strong federation and a ready pool of potential players from the beach game, including 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Martins Plavins of Latvia and the top beach players from several European countries.

Three-time Olympian Phil Dalhausser, a 2008 gold medalist, said he would wait until his beach career is over to give it a try.

“I would be too afraid of hurting myself,” said Dalhausser, who was born in Switzerland but has spent most of his life near the beaches of Florida and California. “The snow probably would be pretty slippery.”

Dalhausser said anything that gets people to watch and play any form of volleyball is good for the sport. And once fans see snow volleyball, Azevedo said, they will be hooked — just like those who have come to follow the beach version every four years at the Summer Olympics.

“Both of them are two parties,” Azevedo said. “But if you organize a party in your home, it’s probably different than a party I am organizing in my home. So, there are two different energies. But I can tell you you are going to enjoy both of them.”

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MORE: Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross map out new Olympic cycle

Olympic Channel Broadcast Schedule: July 24 – 30

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The Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA brings you access to your favorite Olympic sports and athletes year-round, 24/7.

Check the Channel Finder to see how you can watch the Olympic Channel in your area.

It is also available to stream live on OlympicChannel.com, the Olympic Channel app, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. Select replays and highlights will be available on those platforms and TeamUSA.org.

See below for the latest Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA broadcast schedule, from July 24-30:

Day Program Time (ET)
Monday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 1 – Semifinals & Finals 12:00 AM
Monday FINA World Water Polo Championships Men’s Crossover Match #1 02:00 AM
Monday Gold Medal Entourage: Olympians Fabian Gomez, Mohamed Lahna and Alex & Maia Shibutani 03:00 AM
Monday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 2 – Heats 03:30 AM
Monday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 2 – Heats 06:00 AM
Monday Return to London: Men’s Basketball – USA vs. Lithuania (preliminary round) 06:30 AM
Monday FINA World Water Polo Championships Women’s Quarterfinal #1 08:30 AM
Monday FINA World Water Polo Championships Women’s Quarterfinal #2 10:00 AM
Monday World Games Day 3 from Wroclaw, Poland 11:30 AM
Monday FIE World Fencing Championships Day 3 from Leipzig, Germany 12:30 PM
Monday World Para Track & Field Championships Day 10 from London, England 01:30 PM
Monday FINA World Water Polo Championships Women’s Quarterfinal #3 02:30 PM
Monday FINA World Water Polo Championships Women’s Quarterfinal #4 04:00 PM
Monday Flame Catchers: London 2012 05:30 PM
Monday Flame Catchers: Athens 2004 06:00 PM
Monday FINA World Water Polo Championships Women’s Quarterfinal #1 06:30 PM
Monday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 2 – Semifinals & Finals 08:00 PM
Monday FIE World Fencing Championships Day 4 from Leipzig, Germany 09:30 PM
Monday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 2 – Semifinals & Finals 10:30 PM
Monday FINA World Water Polo Championships Women’s Quarterfinal #2 12:00 AM
Monday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 2 – Semifinals & Finals 01:30 AM
Monday Flame Catchers: Athens 2004 03:00 AM
Monday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 3 – Heats 03:30 AM
Tuesday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 3 – Heats 06:00 AM
Tuesday Return to London: Men’s Basketball – USA vs. Australia (quarterfinal) 06:30 AM
Tuesday FINA World Water Polo Championships Men’s Quarterfinal #1 08:30 AM
Tuesday FINA World Water Polo Championships Men’s Quarterfinal #2 10:00 AM
Tuesday World Games Day 4 from Wroclaw, Poland 11:30 AM
Tuesday FIE World Fencing Championships Day 4 from Leipzig, Germany 12:30 PM
Tuesday Return to Rio Women’s Water Polo: USA vs. Italy (final) 01:30 PM
Tuesday FINA World Water Polo Championships Men’s Quarterfinal #3 02:30 PM
Tuesday FINA World Water Polo Championships Men’s Quarterfinal #4 04:00 PM
Tuesday Flame Catchers: Athens 2004 05:30 PM
Tuesday Flame Catchers: Sydney 2000 06:00 PM
Tuesday FINA World Water Polo Championships Men’s Quarterfinal #1 06:30 PM
Tuesday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 3 – Semifinals & Finals 08:00 PM
Tuesday FIE World Fencing Championships Day 5 from Leipzig, Germany 10:00 PM
Tuesday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 3 – Semifinals & Finals 11:00 PM
Tuesday FINA World Water Polo Championships Men’s Quarterfinal #2 01:00 AM
Tuesday Flame Catchers: Athens 2004 02:30 AM
Tuesday Flame Catchers: Sydney 2000 03:00 AM
Tuesday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 4 – Heats 03:30 AM
Wednesday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 4 – Heats 06:00 AM
Wednesday Return to London: Men’s Basketball – USA vs. Argentina (semifinal) 06:30 AM
Wednesday Return to London: Track & Field – Men’s Distance Events 08:30 AM
Wednesday Return to London: Track & Field – Women’s Sprint Events 09:30 AM
Wednesday Return to London: Track & Field – Men’s Sprint Events 10:30 AM
Wednesday World Games Day 5 from Wroclaw, Poland 11:30 AM
Wednesday FIE World Fencing Championships Day 5 from Leipzig, Germany 12:30 PM
Wednesday Return to London: Women’s Water Polo – USA vs. Spain (final) 01:30 PM
Wednesday FINA World Water Polo Championships Women’s Semifinal #1 02:30 PM
Wednesday FINA World Water Polo Championships Women’s Semifinal #2 04:00 PM
Wednesday Flame Catchers: Sydney 2000 05:30 PM
Wednesday Flame Catchers: Atlanta 1996 06:00 PM
Wednesday FINA World Water Polo Championships Women’s Semifinal #1 06:30 PM
Wednesday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 4 – Semifinals & Finals 08:00 PM
Wednesday FIE World Fencing Championships Day 6 from Leipzig, Germany 10:00 PM
Wednesday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 4 – Semifinals & Finals 11:00 PM
Wednesday FINA World Water Polo Championships Women’s Semifinal #2 01:00 AM
Wednesday Flame Catchers: Sydney 2000 02:30 AM
Wednesday Flame Catchers: Atlanta 1996 03:00 AM
Wednesday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 5 – Heats 03:30 AM
Thursday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 5 – Heats 06:00 AM
Thursday Return to London: Men’s Basketball – USA vs. Spain (final) 06:30 AM
Thursday Return to Rio: Track & Field – Men’s Distance Events 08:30 AM
Thursday Return to Rio: Track & Field – Women’s Sprint Events 09:30 AM
Thursday Return to Rio: Track & Field – Men’s Sprint Events 10:30 AM
Thursday World Games Day 6 from Wroclaw, Poland 11:30 AM
Thursday FIE World Fencing Championships Day 6 from Leipzig, Germany 12:30 PM
Thursday Gold Medal Entourage: Olympians Jaime Espinal, Miles Chamley-Watson and Devin Logan 01:30 PM
Thursday Gold Medal Entourage: Olympians Kayla Harrison, Marti Malloy, Toni-Ann Williams and Mark McMorris 02:00 PM
Thursday FINA World Water Polo Championships Men’s Semifinal #1 02:30 PM
Thursday FINA World Water Polo Championships Men’s Semifinal #2 04:00 PM
Thursday Flame Catchers: Atlanta 1996 05:30 PM
Thursday Flame Catchers: London 2012 06:00 PM
Thursday FINA World Water Polo Championships Men’s Semifinal #1 06:30 PM
Thursday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 5 – Semifinals & Finals 08:00 PM
Thursday Return to London: Track & Field – Men’s Sprint Events 10:00 PM
Thursday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 5 – Semifinals & Finals 11:00 PM
Thursday FINA World Water Polo Championships Men’s Semifinal #1 01:00 AM
Thursday Flame Catchers: Atlanta 1996 02:30 AM
Thursday Flame Catchers: London 2012 03:00 AM
Thursday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 6 – Heats 03:30 AM
Friday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 6 – Heats 06:00 AM
Friday Flame Catchers: Sydney 2000 06:30 AM
Friday Return to London: Women’s Water Polo – USA vs. Spain (final) 07:00 AM
Friday World Games Day 7 from Wroclaw, Poland 08:00 AM
Friday FINA World Water Polo Championships Women’s Bronze Medal Match 09:00 AM
Friday Flame Catchers: Athens 2004 10:30 AM
Friday FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships Pool Play 11:00 AM
Friday Flame Catchers: Atlanta 1996 02:00 PM
Friday FINA World Water Polo Championships Women’s Gold Medal Match 02:30 PM
Friday FINA World Water Polo Championships Women’s Bronze Medal Match 04:00 PM
Friday Return to Rio: Track & Field – Decathlon, Heptathlon, Field Events 05:30 PM
Friday FINA World Water Polo Championships Women’s Gold Medal Match 06:30 PM
Friday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 6 – Semifinals & Finals 08:00 PM
Friday Return to Rio: Track & Field – Men’s Sprint Events 10:00 PM
Friday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 6 – Semifinals & Finals 11:00 PM
Friday FINA World Water Polo Championships Women’s Gold Medal Match 01:00 AM
Friday Flame Catchers: London 2012 02:30 AM
Friday Flame Catchers: Athens 2004 03:00 AM
Friday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 7 – Heats 03:30 AM
Saturday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 7 – Heats 06:00 AM
Saturday Return to London: Women’s Beach Volleyball – USA vs. USA (final) 06:30 AM
Saturday Flame Catchers: Sydney 2000 07:30 AM
Saturday World Games Day 8 from Wroclaw, Poland 08:00 AM
Saturday FINA World Water Polo Championships Men’s Bronze Medal Match 09:00 AM
Saturday Flame Catchers: Atlanta 1996 10:30 AM
Saturday FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships – Pool Play 11:00 AM
Saturday Flame Catchers: London 2012 02:00 PM
Saturday FINA World Water Polo Championships Men’s Gold Medal Match 02:30 PM
Saturday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 7 – Semifinals & Finals 04:00 PM
Saturday FINA World Diving Championships Women’s 20m High Dive Final 05:00 PM
Saturday FINA World Water Polo Championships Men’s Gold Medal Match 06:30 PM
Saturday US Classic Gymnastics From Chicago, Illinois 08:00 PM
Saturday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 7 – Semifinals & Finals 10:00 PM
Saturday UCI BMX World Championships From Rock Hill, South Carolina 11:00 PM
Saturday US Classic Gymnastics From Chicago, Illinois 12:00 AM
Saturday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 7 – Semifinals & Finals 02:00 AM
Saturday Flame Catchers: Athens 2004 03:00 AM
Saturday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 8 – Heats 03:30 AM
Sunday Against All Odds: Fiji’s Gold Medalist Jerry Tuwai 06:00 AM
Sunday Against All Odds: Petra Majdic and the Miracle of Vancouver 06:30 AM
Sunday Return to Rio: Track Cycling & BMX 07:00 AM
Sunday World Games Day 9 from Wroclaw, Poland 08:00 AM
Sunday Flame Catchers: Sydney 2000 09:00 AM
Sunday FINA World Diving Championships Women’s 20m High Dive Final 09:30 AM
Sunday FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships Pool Play 11:00 AM
Sunday US Classic Gymnastics From Chicago, Illinois 02:00 PM
Sunday ITU World Triathlon Series Women’s Sprint – Edmonton, Canada 04:00 PM
Sunday ITU World Triathlon Series Men’s Sprint – Edmonton, Canada 05:00 PM
Sunday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 8 – Semifinals & Finals 06:00 PM
Sunday FINA World Diving Championships Men’s 27m High Dive Final 08:00 PM
Sunday FINA World Swimming Championships Day 8 – Semifinals & Finals 09:30 PM
Sunday FINA World Diving Championships Men’s 27m High Dive Final 11:30 PM

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Michael Phelps loses Shark Week ‘race’ to great white (video)

Michael Phelps, Shark
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Michael Phelps was beaten by a great white shark in a Shark Week “race.”

Great White: 36.1 seconds
Michael Phelps: 38.13 seconds

Full video is here.

“I don’t like taking silver medals, but I’ll take one to a great white,” said Phelps, who complained about swimming in 50-degree water in a thin wetsuit but still called it “a dream come true.” “We don’t swim in this, so it basically just shocks our entire body. It’s almost like [the shark is] a bullet.”

The 23-time Olympic champion was not in the race water at the same time as a shark on “Phelps vs. Shark: Great Gold vs. Great White,” which aired on Discovery Channel on Sunday night.

Instead, experts determined the speeds and movements of sharks for hypothetical races. Then, Phelps dove into open water off South Africa alone with a monofin and swam to a buoy earlier this year.

VIDEO: Usain Bolt races Cheetah

Experts determined a great white could cover 100 meters in 36.1 seconds, which is much faster than Brazilian Cesar Cielo‘s 100m freestyle world record of 46.91.

They said a great white could reach up to 26 miles per hour at its fastest, meaning it could close the final 10 meters of a race in one second.

Early in the show in the Bahamas, Phelps outswam a hypothetical reef shark but was beaten by a hammerhead’s late surge in a 50-meter race.

Michael Phelps, Shark

The show used Phelps’ world record 100m butterfly swim from the 2009 World Championships for reference, saying he reached about 5.5 miles per hour at the end of the race.

A shark was super-imposed into a lane in that worlds race and easily outdistanced Phelps in the last 25 meters.

Phelps will star on the final night of Shark Week in “Shark School with Michael Phelps” next Sunday at 8 ET.

“Michael Phelps joins Doc Gruber and Tristan Guttridge of the Bimini Shark Lab to get a crash course on everything ‘shark,'” according to Discovery Channel. “They’ll dispel the myths and common misconceptions, teach him how to safely dive with sharks – including how to stay calm when a hammerhead swims two feet above his face – and will get Michael Phelps up close and personal with the incredible power of a great white.”

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MORE: Phelps says he doesn’t have itch to return to unretire

Michael Phelps, Shark
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