If statistics are any guide to Women’s Volleyball, Russia -- and, before, the Soviet Union -- have to be the greatest team ever. They have won four Olympic golds (1968, 1972, 1980, 1988) and five Olympic silvers (1964, 1976, 1992, 2000, 2004), five FIVB World Championship titles (1952, 1956, 1960, 1970, 1990, 2006), three FIVB World Grand Prix titles, one World Cup and numerous gold medals in the European Championships.
Things have not been going so well for the Russians, however, since that last World Championship win in 2006.
The Russians, who looked so awe-inspiring in winning the 2006 gold in Tokyo, surprisingly missed out on the medals at the 2007 World Grand Prix by finishing fourth.
They had flashes of brilliance, notably an epic five-set win against Brazil that was a repeat of the 2006 worlds final. But it was from the sublime to the sorry and the Russian capitulated in straight sets against China.
Russia also missed out on the FIVB World Cup for the second straight time in 2007 after finishing third at the European Championship.
The biggest shock, though, was when the Russians were unable to finish in the top four of the European Qualification Tournament for the World Grand Prix, missing out on a place in the 2008 tournament.
This prolonged absence from international FIVB competition means it is difficult to judge the Russians' chances.
They still have a number of tall, lean and formidable players who have been the trademarks of a team that has dominated over the years.
The lethal Ekaterina Gamova, who stands at an incredible 202 cm, Yulia Merkulova (also 202 cm) and Elena Godina are perhaps the best illustration of Russia's potency and demonstrates the hurdle, both physical and psychological, that other teams must overcome when opposing this team.
The last time Russia won Olympic gold was in Seoul in 1988 and 20 years is a long time for a team of Russia's stature. In the meantime, the likes of Cuba and Brazil have emerged and at times overshadowed the Russians but it would be foolish to rule out the Russians in Beijing.