Gold medal not enough for beach volleyballer

Reuters July 24, 2012, 9:42 am

Brazilian beach volleyball pair Juliana Felisberta and Larissa Franca are favourites to win the women's event at the London Olympics but one has her heart set on more than a gold medal.

Felisberta also wants a date with a prince.

Celebrating her 29th birthday on Sunday with a ride on the London Eye, a Ferris wheel that dominates the heart of the city, Felisberta was delighted to spot the beach volleyball venue and its close neighbour, Buckingham Palace.

"It's very nice because it's near the house of your Queen, and I hope the princes will come, especially to my games," Felisberta told Reuters on Monday at the Brazilian team's training centre in Crystal Palace, southeast London.

Prince Harry, 27, the youngest son of heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles, played a well-publicised game of beach volleyball on the Copacabana during a recent trip to Brazil.

The episode fuelled speculation the prince would make an appearance at the Olympic beach volleyball event, which is taking place at Horse Guards Parade, a site normally used to celebrate the birthday of his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth.

The Palace said on Monday he would be attending, although Felisberta did not know that at the time she made her remarks.

Beach volleyball has been an Olympic sport since Atlanta in 1996 but it is often not taken seriously due to endless close-up snapshots of women players in their skimpy bikinis.

Far from dismissing the hype over the outfits, the exuberant Felisberta has clearly embraced her sport's sexy image.

She told reporters it offered great opportunities to enjoy the sight of fabulous bodies, male and female.

BEAUTIFUL BODIES

"For sure the people of London will enjoy the beach volleyball a lot. It's a really interesting sport and the players have beautiful bodies. The people of the UK will love beach volleyball after these Olympics," she said.

Felisberta seemed genuinely enthralled at the prospect of a royal audience, returning to the subject multiple times during her news conference.

But sadly for Prince Harry, who is unmarried, the Brazilian said she had a preference for his older brother Prince William, 30, who married Kate Middleton last year in front of a global TV audience of millions.

"Prince William is very handsome... But I doubt he will leave his wife for me because she is gorgeous," said the boisterous Felisberta.

But for all the jesting, she and her team mate are deadly serious about their medal prospects.

"We're ready for the kill," said Franca, 30, summing up their ambition.

The pair have lifted almost every trophy there is to win in their sport together but their Olympic hopes were dashed in Beijing in 2008 when Felisberta pulled out with a knee injury.

At the time, Franca teamed up with Ana Paula Rodrigues and they reached the quarter-finals, where they lost to U.S. defending champions Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, who went on to win gold for a second time.

The U.S. pair, the only beach volleyball team to have won the Olympic title twice, are in contention again in London and the Brazilians, who defeated them in the final at last year's world championships, are aching for a showdown.

"Kerri and Misty are not just any team. This is the best team in beach volleyball history. My biggest dream is to be in the final against them," said Felisberta.

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