Yumilka Ruiz won two Olympic gold medals and also claimed titles in each of the major FIVB women's competitions
Nagoya, Japan, November 7, 2010 – Yumilka Ruiz, one of the most heralded players in Volleyball history, is taking part in the 2010 FIVB Women's World Championship but this time in a much different role than the one she used to fill as scoring machine for the legendary 'Morenas del Caribe' of Cuba.
Ruiz, 32, who retired after the Olympic Games in Bejing, is currently visiting Japan as a special guest of the FIVB, her invitation due as both as a Volleyball great and also a member of the IOC's Athletes Commission.
FIVB Women's World Championship Japan 2010 official page
The winner of three Olympic medals, including golds in 1996 and 2000, Ruiz is one of 17 IOC members currently representing the athletes following her election during the 120th IOC session in August 2008 by a secret vote of members from a list of 34 candidates.
"We are honoured to have Yumilka Ruiz as our special guest attending the matches of the FIVB Women's World Championship Japan 2010," FIVB President Mr Jizhong Wei said. "She is one of the best players of all time and a credit to our sport."
Looking in good physical shape while enjoying the show, Ruiz does not hide the fact she feels some nostalgia for the days when she and her teammates dominated the sport. "It has been a long time since I was so close to a Cuba Volleyball match and I am not going to lie," she confessed. "The feeling was like that I wanted to be there playing again. It is very different playing than watching the action from the stands."
Ruiz has taken time out to participate with the young Cuban girls in some training sessions here in Nagoya. "They are a nice bunch of girls with good skills but without a lot of experience," Ruiz said of the current national team. "Most of them came from the junior ranks to replace players who retired, were injured or taken out of the team for disciplinary reasons."
Captain of Cuba from 2000-08, Ruiz has a vast collection of good memories of her playing days but she picks the gold medal in Sydney as her most vivid accomplishment.
"In that tournament we lost to Brazil and Russia in the preliminary phase and then came back to win against them in the semifinal and final matches," she recalled. "The match against Brazil was marvellous and I played really well. As for the final against Russia, the last set of the competition (is something) I still have very present in my mind."
Even though she is retired from active competition, she is a regular fixture on the international scene due her commitment with the IOC. "This year I had the beautiful experience of attending the first ever Youth Olympic Games and it was a rich one because I had the opportunity not only to know the young generation of players and athletes but also former Olympic champions, including those who took part in the Winter Games," said Ruiz.
As a role model for the new athletes, Ruiz and many other athletes of yesteryear had the chance to exchange experiences and share good moments in Singapore. "Those former athletes are very intelligent and down-to-earth people with good hearts who want to help the up-and-coming kids," she said. "I am very proud of being part of that select IOC group."
A graduated of the Physical Cultural Institute of Havana, Ruiz is currently the Cuban Sport Institute Vice President in charge of the national programme dedicated to the athletes in her native country.
She was born on May 8, 1978 in Camaguey, Cuba. An outside hitter with impressive leaping ability and amazing power despite her tiny frame, Ruiz took part in four Olympic Games (1996-2008) winning two gold medals (Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000) and the bronze in Athens 2004. She was also a member of the Cuba teams that claimed gold medals at the 1998 FIVB World Championship, the 1999 FIVB World Cup and the 2000 FIVB World Grand Prix. Ruiz was one of the final candidates for the honour of best female player of the 20th century selected by an FIVB Grand Jury, which was awarded to compatriot Regla Torres.