Lausanne, August 27, 2008 Ė At the end of the most successful Olympic Games ever for Volleyball and Beach Volleyball, it was the USA players who shone that little bit brighter than the rest.
The U.S. Men kept the momentum from their FIVB World League triumph in Rio in July in their run to the gold-medal match, where they beat 2004 Athens champions Brazil for their first Olympic title in 20 years.
Their female compatriots surprised many with their own run to the final and but for the world No. 1 Brazilians -- as close to perfection as could be throughout the tournament, dropping just one set in the final to USA -- it would have been a clean golden sweep for America.
The Americans had two non-natives to thank for their success: Menís Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon of Christchurch, New Zealand, and womenís Head Coach ďJennyĒ Ping Lang, the former Chinese National Team player and Head Coach known as the ďIron HammerĒ who played and won against USA in 1984, the American Womenís only previous attempt at gold.
It was an astonishing turnaround for the U.S. players and testament to the strength of the coachesí mental and tactical strengths. The menís team had just two years before finished in 10th place in the FIVB World Championships and World League, while the womenís team ended up ninth at the 2006 World Championships.
The Brazilian Women, meanwhile, had Head Coach Jose Roberto Guimaraes to thank for their omnipotent performance. ďZe RobertoĒ became the first coach to lead teams to Olympic gold in both the menís and womenís tournaments following his Barcelona 1992 triumph with the Brazil Menís team.
In Beach Volleyball, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh successfully defended their Athens Olympic title by beating Jia Tian and Jie Wang in the womenís final. As in Athens, May-Treanor shared the victory with her late mother, Barbara, after casting some of her motherís ashes into the wind and sand of Chaoyang Park Beach Volleyball Ground in remembrance.
USA pair Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers followed their compatriotsí victory by beating Marcio Araujo and Fabio Luiz in the menís final, recovering magnificently from their opening-day loss to Latviaís Martins Plavins and Aleksandrs Samoilovs.
Both Dalhausser, nicknamed ďThe Thin Beast,Ē and May-Treanor were awarded as their respective tournamentsí Most Outstanding Players.
The Americans also were there or thereabouts in Volleyball when it came to handing out the awards. USAís Clayton Stanley was named menís MVP and best scorer, while Logan Tom was best scorer in the womenís tournament.
The 26-year-old Brazilian Paula Pequeno was the womenís MVP, while two even younger players also caught the eye in Beijing. Russiaís 20-year-old Maxim Mikhaylov finished in second place behind Stanley in the best scorerís chart and the 203-cm attacker impressed throughout. Chinaís 20-year-old wing-spiker Yimei Wang, meanwhile, finished just behind Tom in the scoring charts.
The Chinese emerged as a force to be reckoned with in Beach Volleyball in front of their home fans, with womenís pairs Tian and Wang claiming silver and Xi Zhang and Chen Xue taking bronze. In the menís Beach Volleyball tournament, Marcio Araujo and Fabio Luiz finished ahead of Athens Olympic winners and compatriots Emanuel and Ricardo, as Brazil showed they remain one of the dominant forces in the game.
Success and the attendant excitement on-court led to television ratings for Olympic Volleyball and Beach Volleyball going through the roof once more.
TV analysis makers CSM Media Research reported that the womenís Volleyball match between China and Cuba was one of the most-watched sports events on domestic television during Beijing 2008, with close to 356 million viewers tuning in for the game on Chinaís CCTV-1.
The Pool A Preliminary Round match between China and Cuba had a television ratings share of 11.9 percent. In comparison, the China-USA menís basketball match on CCTV-2 on Sunday, August 10, had a television rating of 7.8 percent.
Meanwhile, never before in the history of Beach Volleyball had a match received so much attention as when American television channel NBC aired unprecedented live coverage without interruption of the gold-medal match featuring May-Treanor and Walsh.
May-Treanorís and Walshís gold-medal win captured the imaginations of the American public, the two players feted in the press for their achievements and both now on their way to becoming fully-fledged stars in their country. Indeed, May-Treanor has just been chosen for U.S. television channel ABCís ďDancing with the StarsĒ program.
While fans were tuning in around the world in huge numbers, tens of thousands of spectators took in the action at the three venues Ė Capital Indoor Stadium, Beijing Institute of Technology Gymnasium and Chaoyang Park Beach Volleyball Ground. Scattered among the legions of fans were some rather familiar faces, with Volleyball and Beach Volleyball two of the hottest tickets in town for VIPs and celebrities.
Peopleís Republic of China President Hu Jingtao watched the womenís Volleyball match between China and USA, while U.S. President George W. Bush dropped by Chaoyang Park at the start of the tournament and played a quick rally with May-Treanor and Walsh.
Other politicians who enjoyed the action included Serbia President Boris Tadic, Netherlands Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and China Vice President Xi Jinping.
Keen Volleyball and Beach Volleyball fan Albert II, Prince of Monaco, attended a number of matches in his role as an International Olympic Committee Member, King Carl Gustaf XVI of Sweden and his wife, the Brazilian-born Queen Silvia, watched the womenís match between Brazil and Italy, while King Harald V and Queen Sonja of Norway were seen taking in the Beach Volleyball. Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates, one of the world's richest men, also attended a weekend session of menís Volleyball at Capital Indoor Stadium.
Major sporting figures were also conspicuous by their presence. Formula One motor racing President Bernie Ecclestone and his wife Slavica watched the menís Serbia-Germany match and the keen Volleyball fans were back to watch the action two days later, while NBA superstars Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd took time out from their own Olympic aspirations to check out the Beach Volleyball. They must have been inspired Ė days later they won basketball gold for America.
Olympic firsts included referees Karin Zahorcova and Janpen Jirakakul becoming the first two women officials to referee an Olympic match together. Czech Republicís Zahorcova, 43, was in the chair as first referee for the womenís match between Italy and Algeria, with Thailandís Jirakakul second referee.
There were ďlastsĒ to go with the firsts. German Menís Head Coach Stelian Moculescu stepped down from his position, while Polish Menís Head Coach Raul Lozano intimated he would do the same. Brazilís brilliant blocker Gustavo Endres said he had played his last game of Volleyball after the final loss to USA. Italian Massimo Menghini refereed his last match in the women's gold-medal contest as first referee.
Never to be forgotten are the terribly sad cases of Taismary Aguero and U.S. Head Coach McCutcheon. Cuban-born Italian international Aguero learned of her motherís serious illness at the start of the tournament and attempted to return to Cuba for the first time in eight years to visit her. But before she could catch a flight, the news came through that her mother had died. About the same time, McCutcheon learned that his father-in-law Todd Bachman had been killed and mother-in-law seriously injured in a tragic incident in Beijing. Both showed remarkable strength of character to return to their respective teams.