2003 FIVB WORLD GRAND PRIX

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Japan

It's been a long time between drinks for a Japanese side trying to reclaim the glory days of 1960's and 70's.

Olympic Gold in 1964 and 1976, silver in 1968 and 1972 along with World Championship titles in 1962, 1967 and 1974 are a reflection of Japan's power and supremacy 30 years ago but now their national side is hoping to relive those memories with a satisfactory performance in Italy.

Team officials believe the non-participation in the last Olympics was a big setback and this has resulted in the appointment by the Japan Volleyball Association to hire present coach Masahiro Yoshikawa. Core players remain the same as the previous years but younger talent like the lanky Sachiko Sugiyama (184 cm) are expected to be key players in the future.

Last year's 13th place finish at the 2002 World Championship is a good launch pad to show some improvement at the 2003 World Grand Prix for Ken Maeda and his team and coming off a sixth place finish in Montreux, they have shown glimpses of form, which can trouble some of the big guns.

Speed and efficiency have always been traits of the Japanese women's team but trying to utilize the assets within will be Maeda's number one task and at the 2002 World Championship in Germany Japan showed they can get it right, especially with their win over Eastern European heavyweights Bulgaria.

Naturally lacking in height - Sano at 158cm being the shortest player - Japan's liberos will be crucial to any substantial improvement but one thing can be guaranteed there will nothing lacking in Japan's determination to see their name back on the podium, whether it is this year is something that is yet to be determined.