Tokyo, Japan, Oct. 31, 2003 - The 2003 FIVB World Cup of women’s Volleyball gets underway on Saturday in the Japanese cities of Tokyo and Kagoshima with 12 of the world’s best teams fighting for fast-track entry into the 2004 Olympic tournament. At the end of this round robin contest the top three ranked teams directly qualify for Athens 2004.
World Champions Italy and world number one-ranked USA however dealing with injury problems, with Italy’s star performer Elisa Togut out for an indefinite period with a knee injury and USA’s big hitter Prikeba Phipps in doubt because of an eye injury suffered in training at Colorado Springs earlier in the month.
Phipps, however has now rejoined the side in Japan and team manager Kerry Kloistermann is hopeful that the team will run at full strength.
Like many of the teams, the USA squad has been in Japan acclimatizing and earlier this week warmed up with matches against Japan’s V-League title holders NEC. They conceded the match 13-15 in the tie-breaker.
Hosts Japan appears with a vital new team including two dynamic new tall teenagers newly-recruited to the national side. Kana Oyama and outside hitter Megumi Kurihara are just 19-years-old and measure 187cm and 186cm respectively, giving the side a height advantage that was formerly a deficit. Coach Shoichi Yanagimoto intends to run the two teens in his starting six and is confident that the combination will serve him well.
Dark horse is probably Poland, the newly crowned European champions, riding on a wave of success and popularity in their home country.
Japan meets Argentina in their opener following on from an extravagant opening ceremony in the Yoyogi National Stadium staged by host broadcaster Fuji Television. The national stadium is hallowed ground for Volleyball and a city landmark. A capacity crowd, including His Royal Highness the Japanese Crown Prince and Princess Masako, will be present to watch the national team launch their bid for an Olympic ticket.
Earlier on Saturday USA will test themselves against Korea, an Asian powerhouse not to be underestimated, while Italy should coast over outsiders Egypt.
In Kagoshima, the second city of the opening round, Cuba will play the Dominican Republic and Brazil faces hot favorites China, winners of the 2003 World Grand Prix and certainly one team to beat at this tournament.
Each team plays each other once and coaches speculate that an 8-3 win-loss ratio will be enough to place in the top three - possibly even 7-4 with an attractive set ratio.
Over the next two weeks the teams, playing in two parallel groups with half of the teams crossing to the other group at the halfway mark, will play in the Japanese cities of Tokyo, Kagoshima, Nagoya, Sendai, Sapporo, Toyoma and Osaka.
The World Cup has been held in Japan since its inception three decades ago, which coincided with the Golden Era of Japanese Volleyball. Competing this edition are Japan, Korea and China from Asia, Italy, Turkey and Poland from Europe, Egypt from Africa, USA , Cuba and the Dominican Republic from North and Central America and Brazil and Argentina from South America.