PREVIEW-Olympics-Beach volleyball-Power balance shifting away from Brazil, US dominance

TOKYO, June 28 (Reuters) - The United States and Brazil have hogged the medals in beach volleyball over the years, but the Tokyo 2020 Olympics could mark a shift in the balance of power as new rivals emerge, setting the stage for a tough competition.

That could liven up the atmosphere at the urban beach volleyball events -- one of the biggest crowd-pullers -- although only a limited number of spectators will be allowed in at Shiokaze Park on the capital’s waterfront due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since beach volleyball joined the Olympics sports programme at Atlanta 1996, the United States has won 10 medals including six golds, while Brazil has won 13 medals including three golds.

However, neither of them won any medals at the 2019 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships, with Russia, Germany and Norway emerging as new powerhouses. In the women’s competition, Canada won the title, followed by the United States and Australia.

Brazilian men’s pair Alison Cerutti and Bruno Schmidt, who took gold at the Rio 2016 Olympics, went their separate ways in 2018. Cerutti has since played with Alvaro Filho, and Schmidt with Evandro Oliveira.

In Tokyo, Norwegian pair Anders Mol and Christian Sorum are among the favourites to win their country’s first beach volleyball medal, having won the European Championships in 2018-2020. Mol in particular has shown outstanding skill in areas such as blocking spikes and sending in huge jump serves.

Another men’s pair to watch will be Russians Oleg Stoyanovskiy and Viacheslav Krasilnikov, who have booked their ticket to Tokyo as world champions.

In the women’s competition, Canadian team Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes will be in the spotlight, having won the 2019 World Championships and secured their place in Tokyo.

Germany’s Laura Ludwig, who together with Kira Walkenhorst won gold in Rio, will also be one to watch after her return to the sport in 2019 following a break for maternity leave.

The pair have split since they became world champions in 2017, and Ludwig has since teamed up with Margareta Kozuch.

The Brazilians cannot be ignored, though, and one team in the women’s competition to keep an eye on will be Agatha Bednarczuk, who won silver in Rio, and rising star Eduarda ‘Duda’ Santos Lisboa. (Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Hugh Lawson)