London Spy

Mystery solved: Why sand doesn’t stick to beach volleyball players

London Spy

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Spain's Liliana Fernandez Steiner and Italy's Greta Cicolari fight for the ball

Look closely at the pictures on this page.

What do you notice? Better yet, what don't you notice?

All these players have spent the afternoon jumping into and sprawling around in the sand. They're surrounded by their sport's playing surface and it's kicked up all around then. But look at the players' legs, arms and backsides. And take special notice of the hands. There's no sand anywhere.

I go to the beach, carefully sit down on a chair and somehow manage to get sand on my arms, behind my knees and on my neck. It manages to find its way into every opening of my iPhone and in between pages of books I haven't even opened.

I can spend three minutes washing my feet and ankles at the outdoor shower heads and I still look like Lawrence of Arabia. And heaven forbid you perspire on the beach: sand sticks to sweat like honey sticks to superglue. But beach volleyball players who dive head first into sand are clean? Check it out the next time you watch a match from London. It's uncanny.

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China's Xue Chen blocks a spike by Brazil's Juliana

So how do they manage to avoid the billions of granules of sand that cover their sport's playing surface?

The simple answer is that it's not the same sand that gets between your toes when you go on holiday. The sand used in competition is regulated by the International Volleyball Federation. It's of a certain size and shape that ensures smooth grain and larger volume. It's Goldilocks style: not too big, not too small. There are no pebbles or bits of shells. It's designed not to stick.

Nothing is perfect, of course, so sand is bound to find its way in between articles of clothing and on the skin. That's why some athletes use a special towel to clean themselves during changeovers.

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Brazil's Maria Elisa Antonelli and Talita Rocha

Chris Chase, Yahoo! Sports

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