Ma Deshan never thought a volleyball match would look like this.
The 65-year-old retired government employee and his wife arrived in Beijing from Hebei yesterday and headed straight for the Chaoyang Park Beach Volleyball Ground.
There they found bikini-clad competitors, cheered on by dancing "beach babies" cheer leaders and a raucous crowd.
"This is really new for us. It's noisy, but you see, everybody seems very happy," said Ma.
Natalie Cook of Australia gestures toward her teammate Tamsin Barnett during their preliminary beach volleyball match against Russia at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 9, 2008. [Agencies] Hot at the beach volleyball ground!
If Ma was surprised, he was not alone. Many Chinese fans appeared to find beach volleyball a bit unfamiliar.
Some 12,000 spectators packed the stands, wearing Chinese flags on their cheeks, cartoon hats, and all manner of sunglasses. The heat was intense, despite big fans with ice-water drips blowing on the stands.
"Beach-babies" sporting bikinis danced to rock music played by a DJ, and were sometimes accompanied by Olympic volunteers.
Some spectators seemed to enjoy the time-outs - during which the cheerleaders danced and huge video screens panned the audience - as much as the competition.
"It's not like the Olympic matches I had expected. It's very casual," said Xie Zhongjun, a 32-year-old mother who wore a red Mickey Mouse hat and brought her 6-year-old daughter to the match.
"But you know, I hope we can get crazier for the Chinese girls who will compete next," she said, buying an ice-cream for her daughter.
China's top team, Tian Jia and Wang Jie, who rank No 2 in the world, did not let the home crowd down. They finished off their Swiss opponents in straight sets in less than 50 minutes, to the evident delight of their fans, who gave them a standing, stomping ovation.
"I thought the stands were going to collapse," said Niu Yanmei, a 25-year-old volunteer from Hainan in South China, where beach volleyball is quite popular.
"Even in Hainan, I never saw a crowd like this," she said.
The beach volleyball ground in Beijing is temporary, built with beach sand imported from Niu's hometown in Hainan.
But if these Olympics are any indication, Chinese fans will be seeing more of beach volleyball.
Wang Jie, 24, made her Olympic debut here and said she appreciated the support of the crowd.
"It's noisy enough here," she said, with a smile. "Here they shout at the same volume but in our mother tongue. Sometimes they distract us, but most of the time, it feels great."
"I know what our performance will mean for the sport in China. If we win more matches, more fans will come and love this sport."