Beach Volleyball Events at the 2012 London Summer Olympics

Men’s and women’s beach volleyball became sanctioned Olympic sports at the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Beach volleyball, along with music by the Beach Boys and movies like Beach Blanket Bingo, became hugely popular in the l950s and 60s. The indoor version of volleyball was born just before the turn of the 20th century, and the sandy, rough-and-tumble outdoor version called Olympic beach volleyball followed close behind.

Beach volleyball basics

Both versions of the sport — indoor and beach — follow the same basic rules and objectives. The primary difference is that Olympic volleyball is played indoors on a solid surface with six players per side, while Olympic beach volleyball is played in the sand with only two players per side.

Another difference is in the size of the playing field. Because there are only two players to defend the entire half court, the beach volleyball field of play is somewhat smaller. Regular volleyball courts are 9 meters by 18 meters; beach volleyball courts are 8 meters by 16 meters.

The net that stretches across the midway point is the same height for both sports: 2.43 meters high for men, and 2.24 meters for women. Two teams face each other on either side of the net. The objective is to land the ball on the opponents’ side of the net.

Here's what to expect during a match:

  1. To begin play, a player on one team serves the ball by hitting it with one hand; the ball (hopefully) passes over the net and into the receiving team’s territory. That team can then hit, bump, or otherwise touch (but not throw or catch) the ball only three times in the process of returning it back over the net. Neither player can touch the ball twice in a row.

  2. Play continues with the ball being volleyed back and forth across the net until one team fails to return it or until a fault occurs (such as the ball landing out of bounds). The last team to touch a ball that lands out of bounds loses the volley.

  3. If the team that served the ball wins the volley, they score a point and continue to serve. If the receiving team wins the volley, they take over the serve (but are not awarded a point).

Beach volleyball athletes must be very agile and able to jump, dive, and make daring moves in order to keep the ball in play. With only two players per side, teamwork is essential to success.

Olympic beach volleyball competition format

Beach volleyball medal play for the 2012 Olympic Games in London will be conducted Saturday, July 28 through Thursday, August 9, 2012, at the Horse Guards Parade, near Trafalgar Square. Be sure to check the official schedule for any time changes.

Each country is limited to one men’s and one women’s team, and each team is limited to four athletes (two players plus two subs). For both men’s and women’s competitions, the 24 competing teams are divided into six pools of four.

The tournament begins with a preliminary round-robin competition within the pools; 16 teams move on to the knockout phase. That round’s four winning teams advance to the semifinals; the two semifinalist winners then compete for the gold and silver medals; the two losing teams play each other for the bronze.

A competition between two beach volleyball teams is called a match. A match winner is the first to win two out of three games or sets. A set ends when the first team reaches a certain number of points (with at least a 2-point margin). In Olympic beach volleyball medal competition, the first two sets of a match go to 21 points; the decisive third set goes to 15 points.

To learn more about Olympic beach volleyball, visit the website of the sport’s governing body, the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB).

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