Six teams, six winners, in Sendai
Japan, July 17, 2005 - After three rounds of the World
Grand Prix Final Round, only two teams can possibly win
the coveted title. Italy and Brazil have both compiled
3-0 win-loss records, and will clash on the final day of
the tournament, Monday, in a match which will crown one
or the other as World Grand Prix champions for 2005.
Even though the other four teams cannot win the trophy,
they will also feel they have gained something playing
amongst the world's elite.
Cuba have played at their sparkling best and their
infuriating worst, and head coach Luis Felipe Calderon
knows the difference is mental, not technical. After his
team lost a marathon third set 32-30 to Italy and then
collapsed in the fourth to lose tamely 3-1 on Saturday,
Calderon pointed to his head and said, in English: "Not
Pic: New sensation - Cuba's Rosir Calderon Diaz
(right) with her captain Yumilka Ruiz Luaces
there's no doubt the Cubans have another gem in their
ranks in 20-year-old Rosir Calderon, daughter of the
head coach and of Erenia Diaz, a former world champion
with the Cuban women's team.
The 20-year-old Rosir has been virtually unstoppable on
the left. At a lithe 1.91 metres, she soars to 3.30
metres at the top of her spike, and slams the ball down
at such a sharp angle and ferocious pace that it makes
it difficult to retrieve.
The Volleyball aficionados here in Sendai have taken to
her warmly, and she has responded with a series of
eye-catching displays. Not bad for a player whose first
sporting love was rhythmic gymnastics, before her rapid
growth interfered with the ribbons and the hoops.
Cuba have the raw talent; now all they need is the
consistency and concentration of Italy or Brazil.
Olympic champions China started with two defeats, but
there were signs of a recovery in the victory over the
Netherlands. They have many young players, among them
17-year-old Wang Yimei, a former swimmer with the
physique to prove it: 1.90 metres and a sturdy 80 kilos.
China's leading player has been Chu Jinling, a powerful
server and athletic spiker whose delight at seeing China
win the gold medal in Athens last summer quickly turned
"I knew I was going to have to work hard and train hard
to join the team," she said. "My first goal is to become
a regular member of the starting six, and my dream is to
play in the Beijing Olympics. We feel that the women's
Volleyball team represents the whole of China."
Pic: Wang Yimei contests possession against Manon
Flier of the Netherlands
Japan's roster here includes only four members from the
Athens Olympics, with several either injured or resting.
These include last year's poster girls, Kana Oyama and
Megumi Kurihara, plus talented teenager Saori Kimura.
The job for coach Shoichi Yanagimoto is to find the
right combinations when these leading players return
alongside the new stars of his team, such as libero Yuka
Sakurai, Kaoru Sugayama and Chie Yoshizawa.
The Netherlands have the height and the power to trouble
teams, but they have visibly tired during matches due to
the fast and relentless pace at this level. This has led
to unforced errors, and to three defeats.
"We had to work very, very hard to get here, and at the
moment we are not good enough to step it up in the
finals. That is something our young team will have to
learn," said head coach Avital Selinger, after the loss
"Getting to the top six after coming from nowhere is a
little bit too much for us as a team. We did our job
getting here, and the rest of the teams are able to step
Pic: Brazil's Jaqueline Carvalho
Brazil's head coach, Jose Guimaraes, knows his team is
far from the finished product, but they have so many
players who can win the crucial points, such as Paula
Pequeno, Renata Colombo and Jaqueline Carvalho. The
coach is not as happy with the team blocking and defence
as he is with the offence, and feels this must improve
if the defending Grand Prix champions are to hang on to
As for Marco Bonitta's Italy, they have been like a
machine. Consistent and disciplined, they have worn down
teams before putting them to the sword.
Valentina Fiorin, clearly fully recovered from back
surgery and only 20, has been a revelation, while Nadia
Centoni has punished teams around the mobile setting of
Eleonora Lo Bianco.
The World Grand Prix Final Round has given the neutral
fans plenty to appreciate with some fantastic matches,
and whet their appetite for the Grand Champions Cup in
November and the 2006 World Championships.