Updated: Monday, 19 March 2012 16:43 | By pa.press.net

BEACH VOLLEYBALL

As one of the most glamorous sports on the Olympic schedule, beach volleyball never fails to capture the public's imagination.


A beach volleyball player blocks a shot at the net. (© Press Association)

A beach volleyball player blocks a shot at the net.

Beach Volleyball

As one of the most glamorous sports on the Olympic schedule, beach volleyball never fails to capture the public's imagination.

Its association with the sun and celebrities of California, where the sport was first played in the 1920s, has helped to give it a high-profile image, with the Beatles even stopping for a quick game on Sorrento Beach in Los Angeles during the height of their fame in the 1960s.

The sport started out as a leisure activity on the beaches of the USA, but its popular appeal soon saw it develop into a thriving professional competition, with sponsors flocking to be part of the action as it started to spread across the world.

It was during a visit to an event in Rio de Janeiro in 1994 that the then International Olympic Committee president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, was convinced by the potential of the sport and two years later, it made its official Olympic debut at Atlanta 1996, having been staged as a demonstration event four years earlier in Barcelona.

The beach variety takes place on a smaller court than indoor volleyball, measuring 16 metres by 8m.

Teams consist of two players, as opposed to six in the indoor variety, while another difference is that beach volleyball is played as a best-of-three-sets match instead of five - the first two of which are first to 21 points, with the deciding third set being first to 15.

A set must be won by two clear points.

The aim is still the same across the two volleyball events, with each team being allowed three touches to try to send the ball over the net and land it in an opponent's half of the court.

Team-mates require high levels of understanding to work together in harmony in what is a gruelling sport, which calls for supreme athleticism as players dive around the sand trying to keep the ball in play.

The beach volleyball tournament at the Olympics sees 24 teams compete and begins with six pools of four playing each other in a round-robin format, with 16 teams progressing to the knockout stages.

Since beach volleyball made its Olympic debut, the USA and Brazil have dominated the sport in both the men's and women's events - with seven gold medals between them.

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