Lewie Lett is living his dream life, which is currently being smashed into a hotel room in Tokyo, which he describes as “about the size of a Barbie dream house”.
He’s spent a lot of time in this room over the past two weeks, though it doesn’t seem to bother him in the least. You may not recognize Lett, but if you’ve seen any type of volleyball during these Olympics, be it indoors or on the beach, you will know his voice, a charismatic English tone that almost always makes you laugh, because Lett almost always reaches the brink of summit joy.
He has an infectious energy, Lett, compulsively positive, to find the good even where there is hardly anything good to be found, such as in blowout matches against Kenya. Because for Lett it doesn’t matter who is on the pitch, but that he does what he loves about everything in the world: watch beach volleyball and talk a lot about it.
“It’s a really cool trip and everything is nourishing,” said Lett SANDCAST: Beach volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “My comment helps my coaching, my coaching helps my comment. It’s crazy. I don’t know where it’s going either. There is no security in this job either; You just play blindly and see what happens and what appears in your inbox. It’s a crazy journey with no safety but I’m a bit of a fluke in life so it suits me well. I live the dream. Can not complain. I love what hopefully comes out of the show. “
If something inevitably comes out of every show that Lett is on the microphone, it is that this man loves volleyball. If it’s the Australians Mariafe Artacho and Taliqua Clancy, he’ll love the artistry they play with, the offensive, the creativity, the joy. If it’s April Ross and Alix Klineman, it’s their physicality, their ingenuity. If it’s Konstantin Semenov and Ilya Leshukov, then it’s the abnormal ball control of a 7-foot blocker that mixes with young Leshukov’s speed. If it’s Martins Plavins and Edgars Tocs, it’s the hilarious straightforwardness of the two on the court and the cheeky play of Plavins, a veteran.
The point is: it doesn’t matter who’s on the pitch or what they’re doing. Lett will accept and explain it and you, the viewer, will have a better experience with it.
“I come from a volleyball family and have never been without it and I don’t know what it would be like without it,” said Lett. “It gave me a lot. I think if you’re good at it it’s good for you. I hope it continues like this. “
The funny thing is that volleyball wasn’t always great for Lett, but like any compulsive optimist, he always found a way to turn it into a silver lining, which in time would become a golden opportunity even if something went wrong. As a junior he was a national champion in England, but a certain lack of height – Lett is five feet six – put a serious limit to his career as a player.
“I couldn’t evade and I couldn’t put anything away in the transition phase, and I got every ball served,” said Lett with a laugh. “So it was always over quickly.”
But he loved coaching, a passion that he also had as a ski instructor in the snow, and he loved beach volleyball. And in 2012, after London hosted the Summer Olympics, the English Federation cut most of its funding. This is where your average guy would likely turn his back on the game, and this is where Lett continued to lean on. He was 23 at the time and since no one else was going to be a coach and since he was too young to play at the highest level, he took it upon himself, coached England’s national teams, made off-season trips to Los Angeles, where his teams would train with Phil Dalhausser and Sean Rosenthal, among others, among other top talent in the States.
“To be honest, I was in awe,” said Lett. “We had some good results: qualified for the European Championship, did well in the Continental Cup, we did well.”
On the way, at an event on the Swiss National Tour, Lett was asked whether he would like to jump on the microphone during the live stream. Coaches are not allowed in the boxes at international events, so he thought, why not, and Lewie Lett’s strange and winding but always fun beach volleyball life took another turn for the better. Soon he was commenting for the FIVB. In Rio, he was asked to make paint for table tennis – “Ding Dong at the Ping Pong,” he calls himself and laughs as always, resorting to a self-deprecating joke that is both adorable and charming. “If there are table tennis fans, I’m sorry.”
He also got some color when skiing, at the Olympic Winter Games, where he wasn’t a thing dong – he is actually an exceptional skier – and now he has unfortunately reached his climax: commenting on beach volleyball on the biggest stage of the sport.
“The traveler in you and the explorer fall asleep, so to speak, because you are at the Olympic Games, the biggest sports show in the world,” said Lett. “Volleyball has been enough of the thrill and the spectacle, as well as the drama and story, to make it a really interesting trip.”
In fact, volleyball has created enough drama. For the first time in Olympic history there are four different countries that make up the women’s semi-finals. The men’s team offers another Latvian Cinderella run by Plavins and his Olympic rookie partner Edgars Tocs. The world’s most popular team, Norwegians Anders Mol and Christian Sorum, are staying, although they haven’t looked quite like that in recent months. There was excitement and heartbreaking – but also heartwarming – stories like Tri Bourne’s last-minute substitutions for Taylor Crabb, Jake Gibb and Phil Dalhausser at the last Olympic Games, the first ever games where no Brazilian team is chasing medals.
Lett doesn’t need any help with these storylines.
“The only thing you know about these games is the unexpected on the horizon and you don’t know what to expect,” he said. “It’s crazy.”
For Lewie Lett it is the dream.