London, July 25, 2012 – World No. 1 USA, winners of the last three editions of the FIVB World Grand Prix and Beijing silver medalists, are rated by the experts as women’s volleyball pre-tournament favorites to claim their first ever Olympic title at the 2012 London Games.
The tournament serves off on Saturday at Earls Court, a venue built in 1937 with 15,000 seating capacity that hosted several sport activities in 1948 when London last presented the Summer Games.
Foluke Akinradewo, Destinee Hooker and Megan Hodge, who took MVP honors during those championships at the premier women’s annual event of FIVB, are joined in Team USA by a group of elite players that includes outside-hitter Logan Tom and setter Lindsay Berg along with the soon-to-be 40 years-old Danielle Scott-Arruda, a middle blocker who’s taking part of her fifth Olympic Games.
Hugh McCutcheon, the native of New Zealand who coached the USA men’s team to a gold medal four years ago in Beijing, sounds confident ahead of the start of the twelve-team competition.
“I like that our team is aspiring to be the best it can be with the hopes of the gold medal,” McCutcheon said. “I think that is why you should be here. Why come if you want to come in fifth. That doesn’t make any sense to us.”
He then clarified: “But that doesn’t mean that we will do it. And we are certainly not under any illusion that just because we have this ranking that all of sudden it will come pretty easy. We know it will be a battle.”
McCutcheon, who can join Brazilian Roberto Guimaraes as the only coaches to win Olympic gold medals at the helm of men’s and women’s teams, added: “We know there are a lot of good teams here, but we are not going to back down. I don’t know who is going to win it, I certainly hope we do.”
But the road to the gold medal can be full of obstacles as the always confident McCutcheon admits, especially with USA playing in the strong Pool B that includes Olympic defending champions Brazil, European monarchs Serbia, World Cup bronze medalists China, European third placed Turkey and the emerging squad of South Korea.
Pool A includes world champions Russia, world cup winners Italy, the resilient Japan and tough Dominican Republic along with African champions Algeria and hosts Great Britain.
“There are no gimmes, and I like the fact” McCutcheon said using a golf slang to mean he doesn’t anticipate easy games. “We are a good team, but we are one of many good teams in the world. I do believe day-in and day-out we play at a consistently high level. Will that be enough to beat some of these teams on their best day? I don’t know.”
Brazil are full of talent with big-time hitters like Sheila Castro and Paula Pequeno, the consistent Jaqueline Carvalho and a tandem of middle blockers formed by Fabiana Claudino and Thaisa Menezes among a group of proven performers.
Russia’s opportunities rely on perennials sixth-time Olympian Evgenia Estes, Liubov Shashkova and towering Ekaterina Gamova alongside a new breed of players led by Tatiana Kosheleva and the captain Maria Borisenko.
Italy’s duo of Simona Gioli and Carolina Costagrande, the MVP at the 2011 World Cup, is an offensive threat while Francesca Piccinini continues to be a productive player but much of the hopes of the squadra azurra in these Olympics depend on the golden fingers of veteran setter Eleonora LoBianco.
When healthy, China’s Yimei Wang is one of the most powerful hitters in the game and she is joined by consistent players like Hui Ruoqi and Yunwen Ma. Turkey’s chances depend heavily on lefty Neslihan Darnel, Neriman Ozsoy and Eda Erdem as their main weapons.
The tournament should serve as an excellent exhibition window for scoring machines like Bethania De la Cruz of Dominican Republic, Japan’s Saori Kimura, Korea’s Kim Yeon-Koung, Serbia’s Jovana Krakocevic and also to gauge the advance of teams like Algeria and Great Britain.
Day One features the following contests: Algeria v Japan, China v Serbia, Great Britain v Russia, Italy v Dominican Republic, United States v Korea and Brazil v Turkey.
Women’s Olympic Podiums
Year Gold Silver Bronze
1964 JPN URS POL
1968 URS JPN POL
1972 URS JPN PRK
1976 JPN URS KOR
1980 URS GDR BUL
1984 CHN USA JPN
1988 URS PER CHN
1992 CUB EUN USA
1996 CUB CHN BRA
2000 CUB RUS BRA
2004 CHN RUS CUB
2008 BRA USA CHN
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