Team GB's men's volleyball vice-captain Andrew Pink

A row with his high school tennis coach led Andrew Pink to take out his frustrations on a volleyball. Today the Great Britain team's vice-captain is looking forward to competing at a home Olympics. He tells Dominic McGuinness about his airport nightmares, why bare legs are bad in Baku and how a fancy holiday is the last thing he’d ever want.

Born in Kansas and raised in Chicago, your accent is now more Wandsworth than Windy City. How did this journey to London 2012 begin?

My Dad is English and after playing volleyball at Rutgers University, New Jersey, I was applying for jobs in New York and about to give up sport but I had thought about whether or not I could have gone further or played professional. I’d been over to train with the England team a couple of times, which wasn’t very organised back then, but I thought I’d give it a go to play professionally. I moved to stay with family in London and before I knew it I was playing in Germany.

You’ve also played professionally for teams in Holland, Greece, Italy, Poland and France. Which places stand out?

Bassano del GrappaAndrew loved the perfect lifestyle in Bassano del Grappa
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In Germany, I lived in Bühl, a beautiful village near Baden Baden in the Black Forest. I was there with three Canadians, the only other people who spoke English. It wasn’t very professional and we spent pretty much every day in the pub!

My favourite place was definitely Bassano del Grappa, nestled in the foothills of the Dolomites in northeast Italy. As the name would suggest, they make a lot of grappa and it’s a nice medieval city about an hour from Venice. It’s a near perfect life there, they eat well, and it’s very distinguished. Professionally, it wasn’t so great as I broke my leg but I had a great year there and the lifestyle was fantastic.

So what about the not-so-good experiences?

I played one season in Poland where volleyball’s huge. They get 10,000 people at a match and it’s on primetime TV four nights a week so I thought ‘I’ll give it a go!’ What I didn’t realise is that I’d signed for a club in Suwalki in the northeast corner of Poland. The nearest airport was in either Lithuania or Belarus, both closer than Warsaw.

They have a little bit of a winter there and I think it was about -27°C (17°F) for two months straight. I still don’t know how I survived. The city has about 100,000 people but they’re quite happy to stay in their houses all winter so I basically lived in my room.

You’re now fully focussed on GB volleyball ahead of the Games. You’ve qualified as host nation so does that mean your travelling is over?

Baku panoramaBaku in Azerbaijan was a place that made a strong impression on Andrew
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Well, for the last three summers we’ve tried to replicate what it’ll be like at the Olympics so we’ve gone away as a group for two or three weeks, just 12 guys and the coaches. We’ve been to some strange places like Egypt in August when it’s 45°C (113°F) . We were staying in a ramshackle hotel on the Red Sea, playing volleyball for five hours a day, then just sleeping and sweating. It was awful.

Last year we went to Mexico for a tournament. The main reason we went there was to play Cameroon as they had a chance to qualify for London, but when we got there we were told they weren’t coming so it was fairly pointless. But we had a good time!

Another memorable trip was Azerbaijan. We went via Germany where our connecting flight was cancelled. We were put up in a lovely hotel and flew straight into Baku on the day of our match. To get to the Sports Hall, we drove through the downtown area which was incredible. The street was almost paved with marble and gold and every shop was Gucci or Louis Vitton, Ferrari, Porsche and then the next street over was like a shanty town with people riding donkeys.

There’s so much oil money there, it’s a very interesting place although I almost got deported. I was on my hotel room balcony after a training session putting my shoes out. I had my shorts on and apparently you’re not allowed to wear shorts outside of your house. A big muscly security guard started shouting at me saying I was disrespecting people even though there was no one there!

Does it bother you that beach volleyball, which conjures up images of bikini-clad girls playing in the sand on the Mall this summer, gets more attention than the indoor game?

I’m a realist and if volleyball is to kick on in the UK, I’m almost certain it’ll be on the back of beach volleyball’s coat-tails. As you say, they’ve got the most iconic background, they’ll have most of the media, it’s the most requested corporate ticket and I understand all that. Worldwide though, indoor volleyball is 10 times more popular than the beach game and personally I think it’s a much better game.

What do you think it’ll be like competing in your event in London?

Earls Court has 15,000 seats, so the atmosphere should be great and it will really help the players. When we started on this road five years ago, we only had three people playing professional volleyball. We’ve grown from that and thrown together a team and while most teams are 40 or 50 years ahead of us in terms of progression, when we get on our home court this summer, it’s now or never. We’ve got a great chance to turn some heads in this country and across the world and hopefully we can help ensure the sport grows in this country.

So when you do get some time off after the Games, will you down ball and jet off somewhere exotic?

Beach in Puerto RicoAndrew would like to chill out on a beach in Puerto Rico when he next gets a break
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I think I’ve had two weeks off in five years as the national team programme overlaps the professional club season, so I’ve just not had a break. I’ve always said that if I ever do get any time off, I don’t want to travel. I’m sick of airports, I’m sick of checking baggage and I’ve been living out of one bag for years.

If I really did have to pick a destination, then maybe a week in Puerto Rico as I’ve enjoyed it when I’ve been there. It wouldn’t be a fancy resort though and never the all-inclusive for me. I’d just head to the beach for a week and I certainly wouldn’t be touching a volleyball!

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