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Fourth-Place Medal

Why doesn’t sand stick to beach volleyball players?

Fourth-Place Medal

(Getty Images)

Look closely at the picture above (click here for a bigger version). What do you notice? Better yet, what don't you notice?

Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings are sprawled out in the sand, a position they find themselves in more than a dozen times per match. They're surrounded by their sport's playing surface and it's kicked up all around them. But look at Kerri's legs. Check out Misty's arms and take special notice of her feet. There's no sand anywhere.

[ Photos: Decoding beach volleyball hand signals ]

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 those outdoor showers and I still look like Lawrence of Arabia. I got back from the shore three weeks ago and still think I have some sand on my car keys. And heaven forbid you perspire on the beach: Sand sticks to sweat like it's affixed by Krazy Glue.

But somehow 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. If you didn't know better, you'd think the court was a special effect and they were playing in front of a green screen.

How do beach volleyball players manage to avoid the billions of granules of sand that cover their sport's playing surface? Because it's not the same sand that gets between your toes when you go on vacation.

The sand used in competition is heavily regulated by the International Volleyball Federation. There are no pebbles or bits of shells. The shape ensures a smoother grain. The size is Goldilocks style: not too small or too big. Why doesn't it stick? Because it's designed not to.

[Elite Athlete Workouts video: Kerri Walsh's Olympic workout]

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.

Sand that doesn't stick. It sounds glorious. Next vacation, I'm going to a beach volleyball court.

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