Since beach volleyball made its Olympic debut in 1996, the United States has established itself as a dominant force in the sport. The U.S. women and men have each claimed three gold medals, more than any other country. Only Brazil, with 13 total medals, has won more medals than the U.S. But there may be a power shift in Tokyo, with new contenders emerging from Canada on the women’s side and Norway and Russia on the men’s side.

The tournaments will be packed with familiar faces, some of whom return to the Olympics with new partners. Only two women’s teams that competed in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro return, while six teams from the men’s side remain intact. The United States will have two teams in each the women’s and men’s brackets, which will include the youngest team in U.S. beach volleyball history and the oldest player in Olympic volleyball history.

Here’s what you need to know about the beach volleyball tournament at the Tokyo Olympics.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When will beach volleyball be held at the Olympics?
  • What are the basic rules of beach volleyball?
  • What is the schedule for beach volleyball in Tokyo?
  • Who is on the U.S. team?
  • Will Kerri Walsh Jennings compete in Tokyo?
  • Who are the medal contenders?

When will beach volleyball be held at the Olympics?

The preliminary rounds will be held from July 23 to July 30, with elimination matches running from July 31 to August 6. The women’s medal matches are on Aug. 5, followed by the men’s medal matches on Aug. 6. The entire tournament will be held at Shiokaze Park in Tokyo.

What are the basic rules of beach volleyball?

The teams will consist of two players on a sand court that measures 16 meters (52.5 feet) long and 8 meters (26.2 feet) wide. The net height is the same as indoor volleyball, set at 2.43 meters (7.97 feet) for men’s and 2.24 meters (7.35 feet) for women.

Beach volleyball games are decided on the best-of-three sets. Teams must win by at least two points to win each set. The first two sets go to 21 points; if the teams split the first two sets, they play a third set to 15 points to determine the winner.

What is the schedule for beach volleyball in Tokyo?

All times Eastern.

July 23, 8 p.m. — Men’s or women’s preliminaries (4 matches)

July 24, 2 a.m. — Men’s or women’s preliminaries (3 matches)

July 24, 7 a.m. — Men’s or women’s preliminaries (3 matches)

July 24, 8 p.m. — Men’s or women’s preliminaries (4 matches)

July 25, 2 a.m. — Men’s or women’s preliminaries (3 matches)

July 25, 7 a.m. — Men’s or women’s preliminaries (3 matches)

July 25, 8 p.m. — Men’s or women’s preliminaries (4 matches)

July 26, 2 a.m. — Men’s or women’s preliminaries (3 matches)

July 26, 7 a.m. — Men’s or women’s preliminaries (3 matches)

July 26, 8 p.m. — Men’s or women’s preliminaries (4 matches)

July 27, 2 a.m. — Men’s or women’s preliminaries (3 matches)

July 27, 7 a.m. — Men’s or women’s preliminaries (3 matches)

July 27, 8 p.m. — Men’s or women’s preliminaries (3 matches)

July 28, 2 a.m. — Men’s or women’s preliminaries (3 matches)

July 28, 7 a.m. — Men’s or women’s preliminaries (3 matches)

July 28, 8 p.m. — Men’s or women’s preliminaries (3 matches)

July 29, 2 a.m. — Men’s or women’s preliminaries (3 matches)

July 29, 7 a.m. — Men’s or women’s preliminaries (3 matches)

July 29, 8 p.m. — Men’s or women’s preliminaries (3 matches)

July 30, 2 a.m. — Men’s or women’s preliminaries (3 matches)

July 30, 7 a.m. — Men’s or women’s preliminaries (3 matches)

July 30, 8 p.m. — Men’s or women’s preliminaries (3 matches)

July 31, 2 a.m. — Men’s or women’s preliminaries (2 matches)

July 31, 2 a.m. — Men’s or women’s lucky loser (1 match)

July 31, 7 a.m. — Men’s or women’s lucky loser (3 matches)

July 31, 8 p.m. — Men’s or women’s round of 16 (2 matches)

Aug. 1, 12 a.m. — Men’s or women’s round of 16 (2 matches)

Aug. 1, 4 a.m. — Men’s or women’s round of 16 (2 matches)

Aug. 1, 8 a.m. — Men’s or women’s round of 16 (2 matches)

Aug. 1, 8 p.m. — Men’s or women’s round of 16 (2 matches)

Aug. 2, 4 a.m. — Men’s or women’s round of 16 (2 matches)

Aug. 2, 8 a.m. — Men’s or women’s round of 16 (2 matches)

Aug. 2, 8 p.m. — Women’s quarterfinals (2 matches)

Aug. 3, 8 a.m. — Women’s quarterfinals (2 matches)

Aug. 3, 8 p.m. — Men’s quarterfinals (2 matches)

Aug. 4, 8 a.m. — Men’s quarterfinals (2 matches)

Aug. 4, 8 p.m. — Men’s or women’s semifinals (2 matches)

Aug. 5, 8 a.m. — Men’s or women’s semifinals (2 matches)

Aug. 5, 9 p.m. — Women’s bronze medal match; women’s gold medal match

Aug. 6, 9 p.m. — Men’s bronze medal match; men’s gold medal match

Who is on the U.S. team?

On the women’s side, Alix Klineman and April Ross will arrive in Tokyo as the No. 2 ranked team in the Olympic provisional rankings, just three years after teaming up.

Ross, 39, will be appearing in her third Olympics — she is just one of four players in the sport to have ever won multiple medals at the Games, while the 31-year-old Klineman will make her Olympic debut after beginning her career as an indoor player. She transitioned to the beach game in 2017 and won a silver medal with Ross at the 2019 Beach Volleyball World Championships. They are coached by Angie Akers.

The second women’s team is much younger — Kelly Claes, 25, and Sarah Sponcil, 24, are in fact the youngest beach volleyball team in U.S. history. Sponcil will be the second youngest U.S. player to compete in the event at the Games. But Claes and Sponcil are among the hottest teams in the world, having won two consecutive world events earlier this year. The duo has won 10 medals in 29 FIVB tournaments since pairing up in 2019.

For the men, 41-year-olds Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena will return to the Olympics after finishing fifth in Rio in 2016. Dalhausser, who is appearing in his fourth Olympics, was part of the most recent U.S. team to earn a gold medal in the event when he teamed with Todd Rogers to win in 2008 in Beijing.

The second U.S. team features 45-year-old Jake Gibb, who is set to become the oldest beach volleyball player in Olympic history. It will be the fourth Olympic appearance for Gibb, who was named U.S. Volleyball’s beach player of the year in 2018 and 2019. It will mark the first Olympics that Gibb pairs with 29-year-old Taylor Crabb, the youngest Olympic qualifier in the sport since 2008.

Will Kerri Walsh Jennings compete in Tokyo?

No. A headliner for Team USA over nearly two decades, Walsh Jennings failed to qualify for her sixth Olympics at the final qualifier tournament in Ostrava, Czech Republic, in June. Walsh Jennings and her partner, Brooke Sweat, needed a third-place finish or better to qualify, but they were surpassed by Claes and Sponcil for the second U.S. spot in Tokyo.

It could mark the end of one of the most decorated careers in the sport’s history; Walsh Jennings, 42, won Olympics gold medals in 2004, 2008 and 2012. She paired with Ross at the 2016 Olympics, where they won a bronze medal before splitting up the following year.

Who are the medal contenders?

Klineman and Ross are seeded second behind Canada’s Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes, who claimed the top spot in the Olympic provisional rankings via tiebreaker. Pavan and Humana-Paredes, who won the world championship in 2019, have won five gold medals, six silvers and a bronze on the world tour since teaming up after the Rio Olympics.

Brazil has two of the top four seeds entering Tokyo. Agatha Bednarczuk is now playing with Eduarda “Duda” Santos Lisboa after winning a silver medal with Barbara Seixas in 2016, while Ana Patricia Ramos and Rebecca Cavalcanti will make their Olympic debut.

Germany’s Laura Ludwig, who won the gold medal in Rio alongside Kira Walkenhorst, is back in the Olympics after taking more than a year off for maternity leave. She is now paired with Margareta Kozuch.

In the men’s field, Norway’s Anders Mol and Christian Sorum are the top seed and the favorites to take the gold in Tokyo after an unprecedented professional run in the sport over the past four years. Since 2018, Mol and Sorum have claimed 13 gold medals in world tour events and won the 2019 world championship. They will have plenty of stiff competition in Tokyo, including from Russians Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Oleg Stoyanovskiy, the defending world champions and the No. 2 seed in Tokyo.

Qatar’s Cherif Younousse and Ahmed Tijan, the tournament’s third seed, have medaled at more world tour tournaments than any other team this year and will attempt to become the first Middle Eastern team to medal in Olympic volleyball history.