PHOTO: Bulgarian volleyballer makes her play at Bondi Beach in Sydney.
Beach volleyball favorites Jennifer Johnson Jordan and Annett Buckner Davis of the U.S. breezed through their elimination match on Monday morning, but in the afternoon session Rafer Johnson was back in the stands, quietly scoping out the competition. As the former Olympic decathlete and proud father of Johnson Jordan scrutinized the Cuban team, up next for the U.S., he couldn't miss seeing the large neoprene sleeve protecting the knee of Tamara Larrea.
It's not hard to spot the beach volleyball players with bad knees. A knee brace or neoprene sleeve covers more square centimeters of skin than a player's entire outfit, and even a patellar band baldly interrupts the otherwise sleek lines of muscular limbs.
Knee injuries are frequent in beach volleyball, as in indoor volleyball. Women in particular are at risk for anterior cruciate ligament tears, which are more common in sports that involve jumping and quick changes of direction.
Sure enough, nearly every duo competing in the women's elimination round on Monday at Bondi Beach had at least one partner sporting a sleeve, brace, or patellar band, and one volleyballer who just missed qualifying for the Sydney Games has had two knee reconstructions.
But beach volleyball players are subject to other injuries that are less visible. U.S. team member Misty May has spent the last six weeks in rehabilitation from a stomach tear but reported few adverse effects as she and partner Holly McPeak made it through the elimination round on Monday with little trouble over Czechoslovakian duo Martina Hudcova and Tereza Tobiasova.
The toes, without protective footwear, are also vulnerable to injury. Hyperplantarflexion of the metatarsophalangeal joint, known as "sand toe," can take up to six months to heal fully, according to researchers from the University of Southern California. Their 1996 study was published in Foot and Ankle International.
Overuse injuries in the shoulder are also more common in beach volleyball than in the indoor sport, according to researchers from Copenhagen County Hospital in Denmark. On the sand, shoulder injuries tend to be associated with defensive moves and spiking; in indoor play, ankle and finger injuries are more commonly associated with blocking and spiking, respectively. Overall, the Danish researchers found an incidence of 4.9 injuries per 1000 volleyball hours in beach volleyball and 4.2 in indoor volleyball. Their findings were published in April 1997 in the International Journal of Sports Medicine.