Beach Volleyball Olympians React to Bikini Criticism: 'It's Sensible, Useful Attire'

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Brandie Wilkerson
Brandie Wilkerson

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The bikinis are here to stay.

Each Olympics, the question of why female beach volleyball athletes compete in two-piece bathing suits becomes a topic of conversation — and the answer is simple: the competitors prefer them.

"I feel like we've read so many people online like, 'Let them wear what they want.' We are!" Kelly Claes, who competed for Team USA in Tokyo, tells PEOPLE at the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP)'s first post-Olympics tournament in Atlanta. "At the Olympics, we're allowed to wear long pants, turtlenecks — we can wear whatever we want. We all choose to wear bikinis."

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Brandie Wilkerson, another AVP athlete who represented Canada at the Tokyo Games, says she "loves" playing in a bikini.

"It's sensible, useful attire for being in the sun and the sand," she says. "And there are lots of sports — no one is asking why you wear a bathing suit if you're in the swimming pool."

Kelly Claes; Sarah Sponcil
Kelly Claes; Sarah Sponcil

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil

Not all athletes on the AVP tour sport bikinis. Some competitors, like Crissy Jones, routinely opt for one-piece bathing suits, and it's common to see athletes in shirts or longer pants when the weather calls for it.

Wilkerson notes the different styles are "an amazing way to express yourself."

Crissy Jones
Crissy Jones

Adam Hagy/Getty Images Crissy Jones

Last month, bikini-wearing athletes again made headlines when the European Handball Federation fined Noway's beach handball team for wearing shorts rather than the required two-piece bathing suits. Singer Pink offered to pay the $1,700 in fines and condemned the "sexist" uniform requirements.

"I think when you start restricting the options, it's a problem," Wilkerson says. "But if someone chooses to wear something very small or very big, there shouldn't even be a conversation."

Claes' teammate Sarah Sponcil agrees — "Let them wear what they want," she says — and notes that while men often play shirtless, it's never a controversy to see them wearing jerseys during the Olympic Games.

"No one is like, 'Why are the men wearing shirts?' " she says.

Brandie Wilkerson
Brandie Wilkerson

Adam Hagy/Getty Images Brandie Wilkerson

In addition to their uniforms, the women athletes have their own ways of bringing their personal style onto the court.

"I always have to have my nails done," says Wilkerson. "I think I'm one of the only women that play with ridiculously long nails, and I love it."

She adds, "You want to look good and play good, at least that's how I am. I have no shame in that."

The AVP volleyball season continues this weekend with the Manhattan Beach Open, where the winners will have their names etched in history on the Manhattan Beach Pier, followed by the Chicago Open over Labor Day Weekend. Can't make it in person? All the action will be streaming live on Peacock.