Lewie Lett is living what he calls his dream life, which is currently being smashed into a hotel room in Tokyo that he describes as “sort of the size of a barbie dream house.”
He’s spent a lot of time in that room these last two weeks, though he doesn’t seem to mind in the least. You may not recognize Lett, but if you’ve been watching any type of volleyball, be it indoor or beach, during these Olympic Games, you will know his voice, a charismatic English lilt that is almost always on the verge of laughing, because Lett is almost always nudging the perimeter of peak joy.
He has a contagious energy, Lett, compulsively positive, finding the good even where there is hardly any good to be found, like in blowout matches against, say, Kenya. Because to Lett, is doesn’t really matter who is on the court, what matters is that he’s doing what he loves more than anything in the world: Watching beach volleyball, and talking an awful lot about it.
“It’s a really cool journey, and everything feeds each other,” Lett said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “My commentary helps my coaching, my coaching helps my commentary. It’s crazy. I still don’t know where it’s going either. There’s no security in this job either; you’re just playing blind and seeing what happens and what pops in your inbox. It’s a mad journey with zero security but I’m a bit of a chancer in life so it suits me fine. I’m living the dream. Can’t complain. I love it, which I hope comes out in the broadcast.”
If there is one thing that will inevitably come out in every broadcast in which Lett is on the mic, it is that this man loves volleyball. If it’s Australia’s Mariafe Artacho and Taliqua Clancy, he’ll love the artistry with which they play, the spread offense, the creativity, the joy. If it’s April Ross and Alix Klineman, it’s the physicality, the acumen. If it’s Konstantin Semenov and Ilya Leshukov, it’s the abnormal ball control of a 7-foot blocker blending with the speed of young Leshukov. If it’s Martins Plavins and Edgars Tocs, it’s the hilarious orneriness the two have on the court, and the cheeky style of play from Plavins, a veteran’s veteran.
Point is: It doesn’t matter who’s on the court, or what they’re doing. Lett is going to embrace it and explain it and you, the viewer, will have a better experience for it.
“I come from a volleyball family and I’ve never been without it and I don’t know what it would be like without it,” Lett said. “It’s given me a lot. I think if you’re good to it, it’s good to you. I’m hoping it keeps going like that.”
The funny thing is that volleyball hasn’t always been great to Lett, but like any compulsive optimist, even when things have gone wrong, he’s always found a way to spin it into a silver lining that, in time, would become a golden opportunity. He was a National Champion in England as a junior, but a certain lack of height — Lett is 1.67 meters, or 5-foot-5 — put a severe cap on his career as a player.
“I couldn’t side out and I couldn’t put anything away in transition, and I got served every ball,” Lett said, laughing. “So it was always going to end quickly.”
But he loved coaching, a passion he also used on the snow as a ski instructor, and he loved beach volleyball. And in 2012, after London hosted the Summer Olympics, the English Federation cut the majority of its funding. Here’s where your average bloke would probably turn away from the game, and here’s where Lett leaned further into it. He was 23 at the time, and since nobody else was going to coach, and since he was too short to play at the highest level, he took it upon himself, coaching England’s national teams, taking off-season trips to Los Angeles where his teams would train with Phil Dalhausser and Sean Rosenthal, among other top talents in the States.
“I was in awe, to be honest,” Lett said. “We had some good results: qualified for European Champs, did well in the Continental Cup, we did well.”
Along the way, at a Swiss National Tour event, Lett was asked if he’d like to hop on the mic during the livestream. Coaches aren’t allowed in the boxes during international events, so he figured why not, and the strange and twisting yet always fun beach volleyball life of Lewie Lett took another turn for the better. Soon he was commentating for the FIVB. In Rio, he was asked to do color for ping pong — “Ding Dong at the Ping Pong,” he calls himself, laughing as always, falling back on a self-deprecating wit that is both endearing and charming. “If there’s any table tennis fans, I’m sorry.”
He did color for skiing as well, at the Winter Olympics, where he was not a ding dong — he is actually an exceptional skier — and now he’s alas graduated to his pinnacle: Commentating on beach volleyball on the sport’s biggest stage.
“The traveler inside of you and the explorer sort of goes to sleep because you’re at the Olympics, the biggest sporting show on Earth,” Lett said. “Volleyball has provided enough thrills and spills and drama and stories to really make an interesting trip.”
Indeed, the volleyball has made for enough drama. For the first time in Olympic history, there are four different countries comprising the women’s semifinals. The men’s side features yet another Latvian Cinderella run from Plavins and his Olympic rookie partner, Edgars Tocs. The most popular team in the world, Norway’s Anders Mol and Christian Sorum, remains in it, despite not looking quite themselves the last few months. There have been upsets and heart-wrenching — but also heartwarming — stories, like Tri Bourne’s last-minute substitution for Taylor Crabb, Jake Gibb and Phil Dalhausser’s final Olympic Games, the first Games ever that does not have one Brazilian team in the medal hunt.
Lett needs no help with these storylines.
“The only thing you know in these Games is the unexpected is on the horizon and you don’t know what’s coming your way,” he said. “It’s nuts.”
For Lewie Lett, it’s the dream.