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NEWS FEATURE Emotions run deep and high as Olympic beach volleyball arrives in Rio By Albert Otti, dpa

Europe
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Brazilian fans got served a double treat when their team won at the start of the Olympic tournament - not just anywhere, but on the most famed stretch of sand Rio.

Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - There are few beaches as famous as the Copacabana, and there is none that is so closely tied to beach volleyball than this broad curve of fine white sand in Rio de Janeiro.

There is therefore no other place to hold the Olympic beach volleyball tournament than on this beach that is considered the real home of the sport.

"Today is emotional, incredible," says Jose, a student from Sao Paulo who has come to the Copacabana for the start of the preliminaries with about 6,000 other enthusiastic Brazilian fans.

The tournament started on a muted note Saturday morning as Italy‘s Alexander Ranghieri and Adrian Carambula won 2-0 (21-14, 21-13) against Austrians Clemens Doppler and Alexander Horst.

Like all of the teams that played in the opening matches, the Italians were keenly aware that they were on historical ground.

"I actually got a little bit emotional. I was expecting it, I embraced it," Carambula said.

Beach volleyball, a US invention, became popular in Rio in the early 1980s. The city played a key role in making it known in other regions, as it started hosting the sport‘s first international events from 1986 onwards.

Scattered fans cheered Carambula‘s spectacular sky-ball serves that rise high in the air before descending onto the opponents‘ field, but the audience only got really emotional when their world champion home team of Alison Cerutti and Bruno Oscar Schmidt entered the court for the next match.

The season ranking leaders from Brazil entered into a closely fought match with the Canadians Josh Binstock and Samuel Schachter.

Every move of the host team was cheered and every Canadian serve received loud boos, as the Brazilians fought their way to a 2-0 (21-19, 22-20) win.

"Incredible energy at Rio2016 beach volleyball, especially from Brazil fans cheering on the home team," visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry tweeted from the stands of the stadium that offers a spectacular view of the Atlantic sea and of the crested waves lapping at the Copacabana.

Binstock said afterwards he didn‘t mind the booing.

"It was amazing. They were really knowledgeable and passionate," he said about the Brazilians who had come to the arena decked in their national yellow and green colours.

"It‘s a dream come true," Oscar Schmidt said about his sport‘s Olympic homecoming to the Copacabana, where many ordinary Rio citizens come to play on public courts.

In fact, Germany‘s female European champions Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst did just that on Friday when the Olympic arena was closed, to the delight of hundreds of onlookers at the beach.

The fact that beach volleyball is played on a real beach at the 2016 Games, rather than on the artificial sand courts of past Olympics, highlights the extent to which nature can influence matches.

"Today was very difficult to play. There was never constant wind," Doppler said.

Sand is another factor, and the Austrians had prepared by taking a bottle full of Copacabana sand back home from a previous visits, to have it analyzed and replicated by a company for their Austrian training venue.

So far, their efforts haven‘t brought them luck.

In any case, the Brazilian men are seen as the favourites for gold, especially by the local fans, who also hope for a victory by the Brazilian women Larissa Franca and Talita Antunes.

"Yes," Jose answered matter-of-factly when asked whether Brazil would reign supreme on their home turf.

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