Beach volleyball was first played in Santa Monica, Calif., in the 1920s and began to grow in popularity on West Coast beaches in the 50s.
The international circuit started in Brazil in 1986 and beach volleyball was a test sport at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.
Beach volleyball officially entered the Olympic program at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, with events for both men and women.
Matches are played as the best of three sets. The scoring rules are the same as for volleyball: the aim is to score points by making the ball fall onto the ground on the opponents' side of the court. On the beach, however, the first two sets are for 21 points. If necessary, there is a third set that runs to 15 points. The net is 2.43 metres high for men and 2.24 metres high for women.
At the Olympics, for both men and women, competitions start with a first phase, which splits 24 pairs into six groups of four, with all teams playing each other. Sixteen pairs go through to the elimination round -- the two best in each group, the two best third-placed pairs, and a further two who emerge successfully from the repechage between the other pairs in third place. The winners in each group compete for gold, and the losers in the semi-finals play for bronze.