Rio, 2016: Beach volleyball at the Rio Olympics in 2016 offered perhaps the most picturesque setting of any of the events. The venue was held in a temporary 12,000-seat arena on Copacabana Beach, surrounded by tall buildings, lush sand and the Rio de Janeiro water. Unsurprisingly, Brazil, a regular powerhouse in beach volleyball, was considered a favorite to win the gold. However, the pairing of Ágatha Bednarczuk and Bárbara Seixas only managed to win the silver, and the United States' duo of April Ross and Kerri Walsh Jennings topped Brazil's No. 1 seed of Larissa França and Talita Antunes to take home the bronze.
The U.S. men once again disappointed in beach volleyball, though. After winning the gold in 2008, the United States men failed to earn a medal for the second consecutive Olympics. The U.S. duo of Phil Dalhausser and Lucena started off strong in the knockout stage with a win over Austria, but could not defeat Brazil in their following matchup. Brazil's tandem of Alison Cerutti and Bruno Oscar Schmidt went on to win the gold against Italy, making it an overall successful tournament for the host country's men and women.
London, 2012: London's historic Horse Guard Parade was home to a temporary 15,000-seat beach volleyball stadium. The open square, known for the annual Trooping of the Colour event that celebrates the Queen's birthday, was filled with roughly 5,000 tons of sand transported from a quarry in southern England.
Misty May and Kerri Walsh Jennings returned to the sand and, once again, won gold. They beat compatriots Jen Kessy and April Ross in the final round, making it the first time two U.S. women's beach volleyball teams have met in the Gold Medal Match. On their way to the finals, Kessy and Ross beat top seeded Larissa and Juliana of Brazil. The Brazilians left with bronze.
The competition was not so kind to the U.S. men. Fan favorites and defending beach volleyball champions Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers had their gold medal dreams dashed early in the tournament, losing their first match of the elimination round. It seemed that number 1 seeded Brazilians Emanuel and Alison had a clear shot to reach the podium. However, the finals between Brazil and number three seeded Germany ended in upset as the Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann won 23-21, 16-21, 16-14. They made history as the first European team to win beach volleyball gold.
Beijing, 2008: Chaoyang Park, Beijing's largest park, was home to a temporary 12,200-seat stadium that held 17,000 tons of sand from Hainan Island, off the southern coast of China. Following a concerted effort to train Chinese athletes to win medals at the 2008 Games, beach volleyball was one of the sports that came through for the home country.
China didn't capture the gold medals, however. On the women's side, that was done by 2004 Olympic champions Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh of the U.S., who took out Tian Jia and Wang Fei of China, 21-18, 21-18, in a rain-soaked final. Like they did four years earlier in Athens, May-Treanor and Walsh won every single set in seven matches en route to the top of the podium. The victory was the 108th consecutive match win for the Americans, who became the first two-time Olympic champs.
Earlier, Xue Chen and Zhang Xi -- at 19 and 23, the youngest team in either the men's or women's field -- won the bronze by beating Brazil's Renata Ribeiro and Talita Antunes, 21-19, 21-17. Before Beijing, China was 2-11 in Olympic play.
The next day, which was bright, sunny, and a stark contrast to the previous one, saw the United States became the first country to sweep Olympic beach volleyball gold medals. Though they were the favorites entering the tournament, Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser faltered mightily in their first match, losing to 23rd-seeded Latvia. But the Americans responded with four consecutive victories to reach the gold-medal match against Brazil's Marcio Araujo and Fabio Luiz Magalhaes of Brazil. After the teams split the first two sets, Dalhausser recorded five blocks en route to the 15-4 win that landed the third beach volleyball gold for American men in four Olympics (23-21,17-21, 15-4).
In the bronze-medal matchup, defending Olympic gold medalists Ricardo Santos and Emanuel Rego of Brazil defeated Brazilian natives competing for Georgia, Renato "Geor" Gomes and Jorge "Gia" Terceiro in two games. For China, a men's pair (Xu Linyin and Wu Penggen) qualified for the Olympics for the first time, and the duo went 3-0 in pool play, but was eliminated in the round of 16.
Athens, 2004: Greece's Olympic Beach Volleyball Center, a 10,000-seat arena constructed south of Athens for the Games, was the first Olympic facility equipped to stage beach volleyball matches at night. When the facility was built, included in the construction were floodlights.
Entering the Games, doubt surrounded how American Misty May, who was sidelined the previous two months with an abdominal strain, would hold up to the Olympic grind. The answer was delivered in resounding fashion as May and partner Kerri Walsh dominated the competition, going 7-0 with all straight-set victories, to earn the U.S. its first gold in women's beach volleyball. May and Walsh crushed Brazil's Adriana Behar and Shelda Bede, 21-17, 21-11, in the final. The American tandem of Holly McPeak and Elaine Youngs took home bronze.
Brazil, long one of the dominant nations in volleyball, had its wait for a first Olympic gold in men's beach volleyball come to an end when 2003 world champions Ricardo Santos and Emanuel Rego reached the top of the podium. In the gold-medal match, Ricardo, who won silver with former partner Ze Marco Melo in Sydney, and Emanuel rolled to a 21-16, 21-15 victory over Spain's Javier Bosma and Pablo Herrera.
After toiling in the shadow of countrymen Martin and Paul Laciga for most of their seven-year partnership, Stefan Kobel and Patrick Heuscher finally had their breakout moment, claiming bronze, Switzerland's first medal in beach volleyball. Kobel and Heuscher, rated the second-best Swiss team from 2002-2004, frequently trained with their national rivals in preparation for the Games. The Laciga brothers finished fifth, equaling their performance in Sydney.
Sydney, 2000: Sydney's scenic Bondi Beach was an idyllic -- and raucous -- setting for the 2000 Olympic beach volleyball competition. The idea of building a temporary Olympic venue on the historic sands was originally met with protest from some local residents. But enthusiastic Aussies -- many wearing face paint, wigs, sombreros and their nation's colors -- flocked to the 10,000-seat stadium and created a uniquely enthusiastic atmosphere.
With an impassioned Sydney crowd at their backs, Australians Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst rallied to beat Brazil's Adriana Behar and Shelda Bede in the final. The Aussies, bronze medalists in Atlanta four years earlier, trailed 11-8 in the first game but ran off four straight points to win 12-11. In game two, they trailed 7-3 and 8-5 before charging back to win 12-10, setting off bedlam at Bondi.
With the victory by the Aussies over Brazil in the gold-medal match, and the third-place finish by Brazilians Adriana Samuel and Sandra Pires, Australia and Brazil remained the only two nations to win Olympic medals in women's beach volleyball.
Americans Dain Blanton and Eric Fonoimoana, long-shots even to qualify for the Sydney Games, gave the United States a second consecutive gold in men's beach volleyball with a 12-11, 12-9 upset of Brazil's Ze Marco Melo and Ricardo Santos. In an evenly-played final that lasted 101 minutes, the teams recorded 13 sideouts in a row during one stretch. Blanton and Fonoimoana had gone the rally route in the semifinals, as well, coming back from 12-10 down to defeat a Portuguese tandem 15-12.
Atlanta, 1996: At a man-made recreation facility outside of Atlanta, beach volleyball made its debut as an Olympic sport, three years after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had voted to give it full-medal status.
Two of the most prominent figures in beach volleyball history clashed in the quarterfinals as American Karch Kiraly (partnered with Kent Steffes) met compatriot and former partner Sinjin Smith (playing with Carl Henkel). In a match intensified by feuding over qualifying procedures, Kiraly and Steffes fought off four match points to post a dramatic 17-15 win. The even match ended speculation that Smith and Henkel didn't deserve to be the third U.S. team in Atlanta, as many Americans -- including Kiraly -- initially thought.
In the men's final, Kiraly and Steffes defeated fellow Americans Mike Dodd and Mike Whitmarsh to become the first Olympic champions in men's beach volleyball. In the process, the 35-year-old Kiraly, a member of the gold-medal winning U.S. indoor teams in 1984 and 1988, became the first person to win three volleyball gold medals.
An all-Brazil final allowed the teams of Jackie Silva/Sandra Pires and Monica Rodrigues/Adriana Samuel to become the first Brazilian women to win Olympic medals. The gold went to Silva and Pires, who defeated their countrywomen in straight sets (12-11, 12-6). Like men's winner Karch Kiraly, the 34-year-old Silva was familiar with the Games: Her Olympic career began in 1980 as member of the Brazilian women's indoor volleyball team.