RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - On the sand of Rio's famous Copacabana, Europe took three of the six beach volleyball medals on offer to signal the end of U.S and Brazilian dominance in a seismic shift for the sport.
Before Rio, the U.S. and Brazil had between them won 20 of the 30 medals since the sport's introduction to the Olympics at Atlanta in 1996.
On Copacabana, Brazil won gold in the men's competition and a silver in the women's while the U.S. won a bronze in the women's tournament. But the rise of Europe, which began in London four years ago when Germany won men's gold, continued.
Germany's Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst won the women's final in Rio, crushing Brazilian world champions to win their country's first female beach volleyball medal.
In the men's competition, Italy's Paolo Nicolai and Daniele Lupo won their country's first ever beach volleyball medal by taking silver while Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen did the same for the Dutch by winning bronze.
"We are competing on a 100 percent even level with America and Brazil, it belongs to the past that only America and Brazil are dominating," said Brouwer.
"Of course, it is where the sport originated but if you talk about results and performance we are on an even level now," he added.
For Germany's Ludwig the change has come from long hours on the training court.
"(Germany beach volleyball) has improved a lot in the past few years," Ludwig said after taking gold.
"Our coaching and our philosophy has changed a bit... we're putting more focus on our athleticism and our technique."
Reporting by Stephen Eisenhammer; Editing by Brian Homewood