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JPN/JAPAN 

Itís been a long time between drinks for a Japanese side still trying to reclaim the glory days of the 1960ís and 70ís. 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 Japanís power and supremacy 30 years ago but now their national side is only hoping to relive those memories in the 2004 Olympic Games.

Something similar to their fifth place finish at the 2003 World Cup would do nicely for the Japanese at the Games. 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 of present coach Shoich Yanagimoto. Core players remain the same as in previous years but younger talents like the lanky 24-year-old Sachiko Sugiyama (184 cm) are expected to be key players in the future and will need to be on top form going into the Games.

A 13th-place finish at the 2002 World Championship and a ninth at the 2003 World Grand Prix means that Yanagimoto and his team are heading in the right direction following their stirring performance on home soil at the World Cup.

Speed and efficiency have always been traits of the Japanese womenís team but trying to utilize these assets is till Yanagimotoís prime objective. Naturally lacking in height Ė Yuko Sano at 158 cm being the shortest player Ė Japanís liberos continue to be crucial to any substantial improvement but one thing can be guaranteed, that there will be nothing lacking in Japanís determination to see their name back on the podium.

Athens will see the Japanese team making its ninth Olympic appearance, after missing out on the Sydney Games. It will need to prove that its qualifying for the Olympics by winning the Asian Championships was not a flash in the pan but was due to deep skill. And due also to the good work of coach Yanagimoto, who will be hoping that his blend of the experience of Tomoko Yoshihara and the talents of Yoshie Takeshita, Miyuki Takahashi, and the baby of the team Sano (1.58 m) is a recipe for success.