Jake Gibb never thought it would happen.
Long before the Olympics and prior to become an international beach volleyball star, the Bountiful native looked back at his early days playing in small tournaments at Liberty Park. The idea that the AVP Tour would come to Salt Lake City was not even a dream.
Well, not only is the Association of Volleyball Professionals bringing an event to Utah, the three-day beach volleyball tournament at Liberty Park on Aug. 16-18 will kick off the 2013 AVP season, one that includes stops at California beaches in Huntington, Santa Barbara and Manhattan Beach.
Utah’s capital has the sun and the sand. Only the surf is missing.
“They told me this year it was coming here. I didn’t believe it,” Gibb said during Wednesday’s news conference at Liberty Park. “This is a huge opportunity for Utah. Once people come and see the event, they are sold on it. The athletes are so accessible.”
The AVP Tour, now under new ownership after suspending operations in 2010, has signed the sport’s top players to four-year contracts. Prize money for each tournament is $150,000. The players involved include Gibb, a two-time Olympian; former BYU player Casey Patterson, a seven-time winner on tour; 2008 Olympic gold medal winner Todd Rogers; three-time Olympian Kerri Walsh Jennings; and Olympic silver medalists Jen Kessey and April Ross.
Gibb, who also competes on the world tour, hopes the AVP reaches 10 events in the next few seasons to get the total prize money closer to $2 million. CBS Sports will broadcast five of the seven stops, including Salt Lake City, live.
“That way we can stay at home and play,” he said.
Although three sand courts now exist at Liberty Park, the AVP plans on trucking in 1,500 to 1,700 tons of sand for at least five courts, including a temporary stadium that would act as center court and seat 1,600 spectators — including VIP tents.
Promoters believe the Olympic buzz as well as a more intense local sponsor participation will help draw spectators.
“Our players are the epitome of health and fitness and the beach lifestyle,” AVP chairman Dick Carle said. “They are wholesome enough for families and hip enough to be cool. Where else do you see chiseled faces and washboard abs, [men] playing in their board shorts and hard bodies playing their sport in a bikini, but playing it as a real, high-level athletic sport?”
Soon, in Salt Lake City.
2013 AVP Tour Schedule
Aug. 16-18 • Salt Lake City
Aug. 23-25 • Manhattan Beach, Calif.
Aug. 30-Sept. 2 • Cincinnati
Sept. 6-8 • Atlantic City, N.J.
Sept. 14-15 • St. Petersburg, Fla.
Sept. 28-29 • Santa Barbara, Calif.
Oct. 19-20 • Huntington Beach, Calif.