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Europe makes beach volleyball breakthrough
2:24pm Friday 10th August 2012 in London Olympics 2012 - Latest News
The 2012 Olympic beach volleyball tournament was a case of everything changes and nothing changes, as the United States continued their dominance of the women's game while victory for a European nation saw the form book ripped up in the men's competition.
On the women's side of the draw it was once again the powerhouse pairing of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh who prevailed to secure their third gold medal and maintain their remarkable unbeaten streak at the Olympics since their winning debut at Athens in 2004.
The impending retirement of the 35-year-old May-Treanor heralds the end of the duo's Olympic monopoly, but given their beaten opponents in Wednesday's final, Jennifer Kessy and April Ross, also hail from the United States, it seems the Americans are set to remain a force to contend with at the highest level for some time to come.
"It's tough to play your own country," said May-Treanor after the final.
"But it's nice to have an all-US final. That's what we want. It says a lot about volleyball in the US."
Elsewhere, the always-fancied Brazilians played second best to the Americans once again, with Juliana Silva and Larissa Franca settling for third, while China's Zhang Xi and Xue Chen failed to emulate their Beijing bronze as they took fourth.
As has been the case at every Olympic Games since the sport's inception in 1996, no European side reached the women's semi-finals at Horse Guards Parade, but there was more than a little evidence to suggest that things may change in the coming years.
Certainly the young Czech pair of Marketa Slukova and Kristyna Kolocova showed enough on their run to the quarter-finals to suggest that they should be a force to be reckoned with in Rio, while Germany's Sara Goller and Laura Ludwig and Italy's Marta Mengatti and Greta Cicolari also showed promise.
But the biggest surprise to emerge from the sport's 13 days at Horse Guards Parade was the arrival of Europe as a major player at Olympic level in the men's draw.
That the sport should also witness this change in the heart of Westminster was fitting.
Downing Street has seen the winds of political change blow through time and again down the years, so it was perhaps no surprise that just yards from the gardens of Number 10 beach volleyball should bid farewell to the old guard and usher in a new generation.
Few would have picked out Germany's Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann as likely gold medal winners at the start of the competition, but when traditional superpowers the United States and Brazil began to stutter and fall, the powerful pairing was on hand to take full advantage and were impressive in defeating Brazil's Alison Cerutti and Emanuel Rego in three sets in Thursday's final.
The German duo was one of three European teams to reach the semi-finals at Horse Guards - with Latvia going on to take third place and Holland fourth - and there is no reason to suspect teams from the Americas will automatically reassert their dominance in Rio de Janeiro in four years' time.
With the advancing years of Ricardo Santos and Emanuel leaving question marks over the composition of two of Brazil's teams, and Todd Rogers' insistence that he will not do another Olympics with fellow 2008 gold medal winner Phil Dalhausser leaving the Americans in a similar dilemma, now is the time for the European teams to kick on.
Gold at Horse Guards Parade was a good start, and its significance was not lost on the victorious Reckermann.
"It's great for European beach volleyball," he said. "It's great that we were the ones who won the gold. I hope it will bring up our sport in Europe."