A batch of beach comes to London for Olympics

As London prepares to host the 2012 Summer Olympics, some of its most iconic locations are being turned into athletic venues, including the Horse Guards Parade, which leads to Buckingham Palace and will be a beach volleyball court. NBC's Keith Miller reports.

This past Wednesday, the ceremony of Beating Retreat, a military ceremony dating back to 16th-century England, was celebrated with cannons, soldiers on horseback and drummers at Horse Guards Parade in central London. But soon scantily clad athletes will replace soldiers in military regalia on the parade ground, which will serve as the beach volleyball venue for the Olympics.

The surrounding neighborhood, mostly government offices, is in for a bit of a shake-up. But London chairman Lord Sebastian Coe says he's eager to use London’s iconic buildings and landmarks to showcase the Summer Games. He told NBC’s Keith Miller that Horse Guards Parade is the perfect venue because it’s “very readily recognized; Downing Street and the palace (are) at the other end of the park, and I think that’s really what London has to offer.”

Downing Street, the home of Prime Minister David Cameron, is just next to the administration office of the Scotland Office, which flanks the stretch of beach that will be used for the matches. The surrounding neighborhood can expect to hear volleyballs knocking around for the duration of the matches, July 28 to August 12. Over 30 nations will compete for the gold. 

A passerby told Miller, “Here in London we don’t really have beaches, so this is quite fun.” 

London was treated to a taste of what to expect last year when a beach was created in front of the Admiralty House, a venue used to host political functions. And last month, Britain’s beach volleyball team played a game against the backdrop of the Houses of Parliament, under the gaze of Big Ben. Five thousand tons of sand were shipped from a quarry in Southern England for the players to compete on. Though beach volleyball is not played widely in the U.K., tickets fetching up to $715 (for medal matches) were among the fastest to sell out. 

Beach volleyball made its Olympic debut at Atlanta 1996 and is consistently one of the top spectator sports. The venue at the London Olympics has space for thousands of spectators to fill the stands, and even the upper levels will get a treat with views of Big Ben and the London Eye.

So there's a lot to look forward to. Maybe that’s why Miller texted TODAY’s Matt Lauer to get in on Lauer’s plus-one. 

“I got your text message,” Lauer told Miller on air. “Yes, I’ve got the tickets for beach volleyball and you can join me. All right? I’ll see you there.”

TODAY.com contributor Jillian Eugnenios would like to join Matt on the sand as well, just in case he happens to have an extra ticket (hint, hint).

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