Beach volleyball may be one of the newer Olympic sports, only being introduced in 1992, but it’s arguably one of the most popular events among fans. A ticket for an Olympic beach volleyball tournament match is like gold. Wherever the event has been held, this sport is one of the first where tickets sell out. At Rio 2016, beach volleyball tickets sold out before soccer. That tells you all you need to know about the popularity of this sport in South America, but fans also flocked to the event in their thousands at London 2012, Beijing 2008 and all the previous Olympics too. It’s a worldwide phenomenon.
The top female players show off their ridiculously toned bodies in the skimpiest of bikinis when they perform - and much is made of this, especially by men’s magazines and the tabloid press. However, to suggest this is the sole reason behind the sport’s popularity pays massive disrespect to the drama, athleticism and poise on display during beach volleyball matches. The sport has delivered some female athletes whose drive, determination and success set an example to competitors of any sport. Beach volleyball is not only fun to watch, but fun to play as well. In certain countries, you’ll struggle to walk along the coast without seeing an impromptu game of volleyball taking place on the sand. It’s growing in popularity in colder European countries too.
To demonstrate the sheer awesomeness of the sport and its competitors, we have compiled 15 pictures of its top female stars having an absolute blast in the sand.
15 Gabrielle Reece
Let’s start the list with a woman who is arguably one of the world’s most famous beach volleyball stars. Gabrielle Reece is almost as well-known for being drop dead gorgeous as she is for her volleyball skills. Reece was born in California, but raised in the Virgin Islands. She returned to the United States as a teenager studying at Florida State college, where she first honed her volleyball skills.
Soon after graduating, she moved to New York City and became a professional volleyball player, while also pursuing a modelling career. She became highly successful in both lines of work. In 1989, she was listed among Elle magazine’s five most beautiful women in the world. Her most notorious magazine appearance came when she appeared on the cover of Playboy in 2001, spiking the emotions of men across the globe.
14 Marta Menegatti
Marta Menegatti is a talented Italian player. Aged just 27 years old, she may still have her best years ahead of her. Known for wearing pearl earrings on the court, she’s certainly one of the most glamorous beach volleyball players on the circuit right now. Her career has not been without its moments of controversy. She grabbed the headlines at the 2012 Olympics after the cameras caught her crying in the middle of Italy’s knockout match with the United States.
She breezed through the qualifying for the 2016 Olympics with her partner Victoria Orsi, but was forced to switch partners just days before her first match, because Orsi tested positive for anabolic steroids. A stereotypically emotional player who leaves her heart and soul on the sand every time she steps out to compete, all eyes will undoubtedly be on Menegatti if she qualifies for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
13 Agatha Bednarczuk
At the 2016 Rio Olympics, tickets to watch the beach volleyball were harder to find than a needle in a haystack. The majority of those who got their hands on the ticket would have been won over by Agatha Bednarczuk and her teammate Barbara Seixas in the women's doubles. The pair had won the gold medal at the 2015 World Championships, which qualified them to represent their country at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
They saw of the strong challenge of the United States in the semi-finals, only to lose to Germany in the final. Still, a silver medal in front of all your friends and family in your home country is nothing to be sniffed at. Barbara (on the right of this picture) has been a well-known beach volleyball star ever since the 2005 World Championships. It remains to be seen whether she'll give herself one more shot at Gold at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
12 Maria Clara Salgado Rufino
Maria was born in Rio De Janeiro into a family that was volleyball crazy. She has been paired with her sister Carolina since 2003, and the pair are coached by their mother Isabel, who competed on the SWATCH-FIVB World Tour back in the day.
The pair’s mother certainly seems to have done a great job of passing on her knowledge. The sister’s chemistry on the court is a thing of beauty. They set a record for being the first daughters of a SWATCH medalist to grab a medal of their own. Maria also picked up the individual FIVB award for ‘Best Server’ in 2008 and 2009. As you can see from the image above, both Maria (right) and Carolina (left) fell pregnant in 2016. Perhaps their children will grow up to be third-generation volleyball superstars. Their brother Pedro plays the sport too. A perfect example of how beach volleyball can be a way of life for many families in Brazil.
11 Rachel Wacholder-Scott
Rachel Wacholder-Scott is another Californian volleyball player whose career has been flooded with success. She’s had several partners over the course of her beach volleyball career, but may be best remembered for her partnership with Elaine Youngs. This duo won five AVP Tour events together between 2005 and 2006 and put an end to the 50-game winning streak of America’s 'dream team' Misty May-Treanor and Kerry Walsh-Jennings.
Rachel has earned a truck-load of other championship titles too, as well as many individual awards. She was awarded the ‘Best Defensive Player’ and ‘Most Improved Player’ accolades among the AVP women in 2005. She married fellow volleyball player Sean Scott in 2007. The pair have one son. After feasting your eyes on this picture, you might be unsurprised to hear that she enjoyed a successful side-hustle as a model.
10 Larissa Franca
Larissa Franca is the all-time leader of beach volleyball titles, having gained 57 FIVB career gold medals. After just a couple of years in the pros, she earned a bronze medal at the 2003 Pan American Games with her teammate, Ana Richa.
That initial success would eventually lead her to even greater achievements. She paired with Juliana Felisberta Silva and the duo would enjoy immediate success, winning a SWATCH medal in their first international event together. In a single season, they would win six gold medals and 14 podium spots, pocketing over $400,000 in prize money in the process. On August 2013, Larissa revealed she was dating fellow female player Liliane Maestrini, and the pair married about a month later.
9 Misty May-Treanor
Misty May-Treanor and her partner Kerry Walsh-Jennings have been dubbed the "greatest beach volleyball team of all time" on various occasions. When you look at the haul of medals they have each won, it's easy to see why. Misty has picked up 112 individual championship wins in domestic and international competition, making her the most successful female player of all time. That includes three Olympic gold medals, from the 2004, 2008 and 2012 games, and three FIVB World Championship golds in 2003, 2005 and 2007.
She retired from competitive volleyball after the 2012 Olympics and was inducted into the Volleyball Hall of Fame in 2016. Perhaps one of the most deserving inductions in recent history. She’s been married to baseball player Matt Treanor since 2004. The pair welcomed their first children, twin daughters Mele Alizarin and Mia Kanoelani, to the world in November 2017.
8 Zara Dampney
Dampney hails from the slightly less exotic location of Dorset, England. Like many European beach volleyball stars, she initially honed her skills via the indoor game, then made the switch to sunnier, sandier climates further into her career. After completing her degree at the University of Sheffield, Dampney became part of the first British team to compete on the Federation Internationale de Volleyball tour for more than a decade. She caused some controversy in the UK by selling advertising space on her bikini bottoms for bookmakers Betfair.
Dampney and her partner Shauna Mullin became the first athletes to represent the United Kingdom at the Olympics when they competed at the 2012 London Games. They qualified automatically by virtue of being the home nation, despite only being ranked 37th in the world at the time. Sadly, they were thoroughly outclassed in the group stages of the tournament.
7 Sanne Keizer
The Netherlands is a nation country you might not necessarily associate with beach volleyball, but Sanne Keizer has been representing her country at this sport for well over a decade. Having taken up the sport at age 11, Sanne slowly rose up the ranks as part of the Dutch national youth teams. She focused on beach volleyball when she turned 17, and became an under-18 World Champion with her first partner, Arjanne Stevens.
She has since partnered with Marrit Leenstra, and has been competing alongside her for the best part of 12 years. Although Sanne and her Dutch compatriots have struggled to see real success on the biggest stage, they always bring loyal supporters who help to create a carnival atmosphere on the court. In their bright orange bikinis, the Dutch team is always a sight to behold on the global stage.
6 Jennifer Kessy
Jennifer Kessy is arguably the poster-girl for American volleyball. With her long blonde hair, toned abs and eye-catching skills on the court, the Californian is the picture of perfection in more ways than one. Kessy has enjoyed an incredibly successful beach volleyball career, winning countless titles with her partner April Ross and banking more than a million dollars in prize money. The pair’s greatest achievement to date was taking home a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics.
They stormed to the final in London, only falling short in the all-American final against Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings. As a teenager, Kessy was actually the MVP of her high school swim team, but made the decision to focus on volleyball instead. When you look back at her career, it’s probably fair to say that was a great decision.
5 Sara Goller
German player Sara Goller recently retired from beach volleyball, but won an impressive haul of medals while she was competing in the sport. Paired with Laura Ludwig for over a decade, she picked up gold medals at the 2006 German Championships and under-23 European Championships. They also won gold medals at the 2008 and 2010 Nestea European Championships, where were held in Hamburg and Berlin respectively. The closest they came to an Olympic medal was in 2012, where they reached the quarter-finals.
Goller and Ludwig were well-known for their teamwork and efficiency on the court, which is likely what you would expect from a team paired together for so long. Beach volleyball players are known for showing off their toned bodies and Goller developed a reputation for being one of the most athletic players, as this photo clearly demonstrates.
4 Taylor Pischke
Canada is of course known for its prowess at winter sports, such as skiing, curling, ice hockey and the like. But it’s clear that with rising stars like Taylor Pischke coming to the peak of their careers, it’s also becoming a nation to watch in the world of beach volleyball.
Pischke is just 24 years old and has a lot to learn about the international scene, but is improving all the time. She’s making a name for herself outside of the court as well, having appeared in Sportnet Magazine’s 2013 ‘Beauty Of Sport’ issue and the 2016 ‘My Beauty My Say’ campaign. She changed partners this year, deciding to tem with Kristina May after spending four years with Melissa Humana-Paredes. It will be fascinating to monitor how this team gets on in the coming season and beyond.
3 Siri Bjorkesett
The most popular sports in Norway are winter sports, such as cross-country skiing. It’s difficult to imagine that the beach volleyball scene is thriving there, or anywhere in Scandinavia. However, that’s not stopped Siri Bjorkesett from blazing a trail on the international scene. Born in Oslo, this blonde bombshell has had the fans sitting up and taking notice ever since starting her beach volleyball career in 2005. She made her international debut in 2007. In this photo, she's actually relaxing on the beach instead of playing.
While she might not be the most well-known figure in Norwegian sport, she’s definitely one of the most gorgeous players. Her passion for the sport is clear to see every time she steps out onto the court. Anyone that helps to increase the popularity of this fantastic sport in new corners of the globe has to be recognized and applauded.
2 Elsa Baquerizo McMillan
Elsa was born in New York, but has lived in Spain for most of her life and has been representing them on the beach volleyball court for a few years. The 30-year-old has competed for Spain at the last two Olympic Games, getting through the group stages on both occasions only to be eliminated at the first knockout stage. Although she hasn’t attained the success of many of the other women on this list, her passion for the game is clear for everyone who has had the pleasure of watching her perform.
She paired with Liliana Fernandez at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games, and the pair will hope to perform together at their third straight Olympics in 2020. No doubt her friends and family from Spain and The United States will be cheering her on.
1 Kristyna Kolocova
Another blonde bombshell from a European country that you wouldn’t immediately associate with the sport. Kristyna Kolocova and her long-time teammate Marketa Slukova are perhaps the most famous beach volleyball players from the Czech Republic. She is a rare case in the world of beach volleyball, as she was somewhat of a late bloomer. While she played regular volleyball for a while, she only started really getting into beach volleyball at the age of 17. She developed her talent relatively quickly.
She’s been playing with her partner Marketa Slukova for several years. The pair went to a high school that offered a specialized volleyball class, and that’s where they met. They placed fifth at the 2012 Olympics, eliminating the Brazilian team of Antonelli and Antunes in a shock victory along the way. Kolocova worked as a commentator at the 2016 Games.