U.S. Beats Brazil for First Gold in Women’s Volleyball
TOKYO – Every ascent of Olympic Mountain comes with a series of incidents that, in retrospect, seem meticulously crafted but were in fact nothing but dice rolls that paid off.
Take the United States women’s volleyball team. He first qualified for the Olympic tournament in 1980, but missed those Games due to a boycott led by the United States. Since then, he has been chasing an Olympic title.
Despite a collegiate infrastructure that produced volleyball talent on an assembly line, American women had never won the gold medal. They came close twice, winning silver medals in 2008 in Beijing and again at the London Games in 2012 and a bronze medal in Rio in 2016, before finally reaching the top step on Sunday in Tokyo, winner 3 -0 against Brazil.
The turning point in the success of the current squad most likely has its roots in two coaching decisions over a decade ago.
After the 2008 Olympics, Hugh McCutcheon stepped down as coach of the US men’s team after leading them to the gold medal and agreed to take over the women’s program.
This created an opening on the men’s side. One of the candidates for the post was Karch Kiraly, America’s first true volleyball star. As a player, Kiraly had led UCLA to the national championships and was the heart of the United States team until the gold medal in 1984. He later helped popularize professional beach volleyball. , of which he also became champion.
It would have been completely understandable if Kiraly had felt that his fame entitles him to men’s work. He does not have. In fact, he said, he felt unqualified, and told American volleyball executives so.
A few weeks later, he found himself sitting next to McCutcheon on a plane. McCutcheon had an idea. Come be my assistant with the women’s team, he told Kiraly. Gain experience and take over when I leave.
And that’s exactly what Kiraly did.
“I can’t imagine coaching another team,” Kiraly said earlier this week, as the United States headed into Sunday’s gold medal game. “I love them to death.”
As a UCLA graduate, Kiraly is familiar with the teachings of John Wooden, the legendary college basketball coach, and Wooden’s idea that paying for a team gives you the opportunity to be a part of. something bigger than yourself.
His assistant trainer, Marv Dunphy, is also proficient in Wooden’s methods; he spent hours interviewing the coach before his death in 2010. The team he and Kiraly illustrated exemplifies the methods they learned: flexibility for stability; go fast but also take your time; a willingness to savor small gestures and a recognition that athletes are humans and not robots.
Kiraly barely mentioned his team’s talent and athleticism when he mentioned it at the Games. Instead, he spoke proudly of the atmosphere of “trust, responsibility and democracy” that women have created for themselves.
Foluke Akinradwedo, a veteran middle tackle, said the team have made a conscious decision in recent months to verbalize their emotions in the face of the tension inherent in their quest for gold rather than running away.
“We allow ourselves to be like, ‘I’m nervous,’” Akinradwedo said after the Americans won the quarter-finals over the Dominican Republic. “We say we’re nervous, and then we deal with it. “
The team’s race to the Tokyo 2020 Finals started long before summer. Last spring, the United States brought its best players to the Volleyball Nations League in Italy, an annual competition between the best volleyball countries.
Several countries have chosen to let their best players rest this year; Kiraly used it as a sort of trial, bringing in 18 players, then reducing his roster to the top 12 he would take to Tokyo. The United States won the competition and has not given up since.
In their run for the gold medal game, the team lost a lot of points, seven sets and even one game, a 3-0 loss by the Russian team. And they rolled with it all.
On Sunday, however, they finished their journey to their first gold medal with a sweep from Brazil (25-21, 25-20, 25-14). Andrea Drews had 15 points and Michelle Bartsch-Hackley added 14.
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