JONESBORO, Ga. (AP) _ The Olympics have arrived on the beach.

Beach volleyball, which has risen from a laid-back pastime along the California coast to a multimillion-dollar sport muscling itself onto network television, took another giant step forward Tuesday.

The opening day of the first Olympic beach volleyball tournament drew about 13,000 raucous, flag-waving, raucous spectators. They spent the day cheering for a group of athletes who have blended athletic skills and tanned, fit bodies into a fast-moving, fast-growing, easy-to-watch sport.

``It's a major stepping stone for our sport to be acknowledged and to have this many people,'' said Holly McPeak of the United States.

``It's a beautiful thing to see,'' said Nancy Reno, McPeak's partner.

The Americans got off to a start befitting the nation chiefly responsible for transforming the sport from a beach-party diversion into an Olympic medal event.

The American women defeated their opening opponents by a combined score of 45-16.

The U.S. men began play today and continued the winning trend. Mike Dodd and Mike Whitmarsh scored the final five points for a 15-10 victory over the Australian duo of Julien Prosser and Lee Zahner, and Americans Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes were 15-7 winners over Italy's Andrea Ghiurghi and Nicola Grigolo.

McPeak and Reno, seeded second in the 18-team women's bracket, were 15-4 winners over France's Brigitte Lesage and Annabelle Prawerman.

Gail Castro and Deb Richardson defeated Debora Schoon-Kadjik and Lisette Van de Ven of the Netherlands by the same score.

The other U.S. duo, Barbra Fontana Harris and Linda Hanley, used some overpowering serves to pull away to a 15-8 victory over Norway's Merita Bernsten and Ragni Hestad.

The victory set up Hanley and Fontana Harris, the No. 4 seeds, for a meeting today against Brazil's fifth-seeded Monica Rodrigues and Adriana Samuel. They had to fend off three match points and rally for a 17-15 victory over Italy's Maria Solazzi and Consuelo Turetta.

The top-seeded women, Brazil's Sandra Pires and Jackie Silva, were 15-2 winners over Indonesia's Eta Berta Kaize and Timy Yudhani.

The tournament is being held at Atlanta Beach, a complex built near a small lake in the southern suburbs of Atlanta.

Unlike the professional events, where advertisers get their word out on everything from courtside billboards and balloons to tattoos on the athletes,

Atlanta Beach is relatively sponsor-free.

Patriotism is the overriding theme, and never was it more evident than early in the McPeak-Reno match.

With a packed stadium-court crowd of about 9,000 already making plenty of noise, McPeak and Reno sent the decibel level higher by scoring the first five points. The French, reeling, went to the sidelines for a timeout to regroup, prompting the fans to start a deafening chant of ``U-S-A!'' that lasted until after play had resumed.

``Awesome. It was amazing,'' McPeak said, shaking her head. ``I got more goose bumps there than I did at the opening ceremonies.''

Hanley and Fontana Harris, who also played on the stadium court, got a similar reception.

``This is incredible,'' said Hanley, 36. ``I was out there in the old days, playing for T-shirts and dinners.''