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Olympic Volleyball Used Industry Product

American beach volleyball icon Misty May digs in a patch of sand supplied by Sibelco of Dessel, Belgium at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

The sand sticking to players like granulated sugar on a Krispy Kreme at this year's Olympics wasn't scooped from a Greek beach. Rather, 1,700 tons of the snowy product were mined from a Belgian cave and then shipped to the Olympic Beach Volleyball Centre near Athens.

The decision to use a product often reserved for playgrounds and sand lots was made for aesthetic and safety reasons. Products like the Belgian sand are whiter, more uniform and less coarse than most beach sands, which cause abrasion on bare feet and knees.

The artificial sand's greater comfort means that most beach volleyball players aren't purists when it comes to their playing surface. Even so, the director of USA Volleyball, John Kessel, told Slate magazine that the sand at Manhattan Beach near Los Angeles is a sort of beach volleyball standard for its depth, suppleness, grain size and resistance to clumping.

The Belgian sand, marketed by Sibelco Silica Sand of Dessel, closely mirrors those properties. A similar blend is offered by Fairmount Minerals of Chardon, Ohio. This year's Olympic sand was selected from 60 candidate batches.

Whatever its origin, beach volleyball sand must match standards enforced by the Canadian firm of Hutcheson Sand and Mixes for use in International Volleyball Federation matches.

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December 8, 2019, 7:45 am PDT

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