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Friday, June 16, 2000

It's not all sand and spikes
If you can handle Montezuma's Revenge, the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour, with stops in Mexico, Brazil and other hot spots, can be a very glamorous life.

After finishing third at an event in Rio de Janeiro last year, Canadian volleyballers Conrad Leinemann and Jody Holden were serenaded outside their hotel room by rabid Brazilian fans.

"They say that beach volleyball is the No.1 sport in Brazil -- soccer being a religion," said Leinemann, who is taking part in the Toronto Nokia Open this week at Ashbridge's Bay.

So what's difficult about being surrounded by players in skimpy outfits (pick your own gender), while earning a living hitting a ball over a net on a beach?

"It's the greatest life in the world," Holden said.

Still, there's the other side of travelling on the 13-stop tour, where the financial rewards are meagre if one fails to record the appropriate number of kills.

Canadians Erminia Russo and Kristine Drakich have seen both sides of the road, the glamour and the gloom: Take an incident a few years ago during a stop in Marseille, France. Russo thought it would be a fine idea to go cliff jumping with Leinemann and Holden on a rare day off.

Everything went splendidly until Russo actually leaped into the drink. Quickly feeling the effects of the current, large waves and undertow, the University of British Columbia women's varsity team coach made her way for the closest chunk of land, at the base of the cliffs. That was a mistake, as the water smashing the shore at that juncture was brutal.

"I began to panic," she said. "Water was going into my nose and throat and it was hard to breathe. At that point, I looked over at Jody and went under."

Leinemann and Holden swam to her aid immediately, but the wave action prevented them from doing their job effectively. Soon, Leinemann and Holden became fatigued, Leinemann especially as he still had shoes on.

"For a brief second, all three of us thought we were in trouble," Russo said. "It was very frightening. It was sort of like an out-of-body experience."

Eventually, the guys managed to swim Russo to the beach, each holding on to one arm.

"They were so unbelievable," Russo said. "Needless to say, I'm very fond of both of them."

Unfortunately, Leinemann and Holden were not around last year when Russo and Drakich, the head coach of the University of Toronto women's squad, got off a train in Porto, Portugal. Three guys followed them into the town centre when suddenly, one of the thugs went for Drakich's purse. She refused to give it up without a fight.

"Kristine was rolling along the ground with the guy -- wearing a dress," Russo said with a laugh. "I always have to add that when I tell the story."

Why the thug was wearing a dress, we'll never know. Anyway, they battled until the handbag desperado finally gave up, but not before Drakich suffered a dislocated left thumb. After having her thumb reset and wrapped at a nearby hospital, Drakich was playing the next day. Not very well, apparently, but playing.

"The weird thing is, both incidents happened on the day before my birthday (July 24)," Russo said. "This year, we plan to stay in our hotel room the entire day."

BRIEFLY: Let the bellyaching begin. A few months before an Olympics, there is a hue and cry over this coach or that coach being left off the boxing team staff. Before the 1984 L.A. Games, stars Shawn O'Sullivan and Willie de Wit threatened to compete for Ireland and Holland respectively if their personal coaches weren't named to the team. This year, it's Brampton's Dewith Fraser, the coach of team standouts Troy Ross and Mark Simmons, who is leading the charge. Fraser and the Canadian Amateur Boxing Association never have seen eye to eye, so there have been suggestions that he's being shafted. In CABA's defence, at least it didn't get on its politically correct high horse and appoint a female coach, unlike a certain other team ... Inge de Bruijn of the Netherlands, who set seven world records in the past three weeks, is coached by former Etobicoke Swim Club coach Paul Bergin.