1962: Japan’s ladies produced “volleyball from another planet” to end the dominance of the hosts, the Soviet Union
Extraordinary changes demand extraordinary measures, which is why the fifth FIVB World Championships took place in 1962, just two years after the previous showdown. The reason was the first ever inclusion of volleyball in the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, in 1964.
Two years before that historic event, Japan also played the main role in the FIVB World Championships, which were held in Moscow for a second time, after a first edition in Russia in 1952.
The competition looked all set for another brace of titles for the Soviet Union, but the story was to play out very differently in the days from October 12-26. After three titles at the three previous FIVB Women’s World Championship, the host’s dominance of the competition was brought to an emphatic end by the Japanese ladies' team. Over the course of the entire tournament, Japan lost just one set in ten matches. That came in the decisive 3:1 victory against the Soviet Union, whose style of play seemed old-fashioned in comparison. The Soviet Union ultimately had to settle for silver. Two years earlier, the story had been completely different.
This time, however, the Japanese and their new, futuristic style of play came out on top. The media called the players “Oriental Witches” due to their supernatural defensive displays. Others wrote of volleyball “from another planet”. The moves were phenomenally precise, the fast-paced game a feast for the eyes, and the ladies put up a cat-like defence the likes of which had never been seen before. This style of play was to set the trend for the future. The key to the perfection of the so-called “miracle team”, however, was extremely hard work.
Coach Hirofumi Daimatsu had assembled the top 16 Japanese players at a textile company, where they had to practice after work – sometimes until as late as midnight. The only time they had off was on Sundays and a week each year. Daimatsu is also regarded as the inventor of the rolling receive move, which was to revolutionise defence. Japan’s outstanding players were playmaker Masai Kasai, superb left-handed spiker Emiko Mijamoto and Mitsue Masuo, who baffled her opponents with her unpredictable shots.
And so it was that Japan dominated the 13 other teams in the tournament to become the first non-European team to win gold in the history of the World Championships. Poland picked up bronze behind the Soviet Union. Brazil, China and North Korea ended the tournament in places eight to ten, behind a further four East European countries.
There was some consolation for the Russian hosts, however, as the men’s team sealed its fourth title in five FIVB World Championships in front of thousands of thrilled fans. The Soviet squad, however, which was built around playmaker Georgy Mondzolevski, top spiker Ivans Bugajenkovs and the technically impressive Yuri Chesnokov, were pushed all the way in their 3:2 victories over Japan and Poland. In the decisive match against Czechoslovakia, who caused the Soviet Union’s only blip in their otherwise perfect winning record, the hosts claimed a commanding 3:0 win. The Czechs were thus forced to settle for silver for the fourth time. Bronze went to Romania, meaning the podium consisted of the same three countries as in 1960.
The fact that 15 of the 40 matches in the final round took place in five sets provides an idea of how evenly matched the teams participating in the second Soviet edition of the FIVB Men's World Championships were. The European nations among the 21 participating countries (which including debutants Mongolia and Albania) dominated again. However, the fifth place achieved by Japan’s men was a clear indication of the strength of the new volleyball power emerging in the Far East.
Read more about previous editions of the FIVB Volleyball World Championships by clicking on the links below.
1966 and 1967: Soviet Union empty-handed for the first time
1960: Volleyball fever in Brazil, both World Championship titles go to the Soviet Union again
1956: Czechoslovakia claim trophy in Paris
1952: Soviet Union win double gold in Moscow
1949: Soviet Union win inaugural World Championships