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These are trying times for the Cuban women’s Volleyball team with the ghosts of the glory days of the recent past haunting their slow progress. Indeed, those fantastic days of the 90s, when Cuba won the Olympic Gold three times in succession are still constantly talked about among Volleyball aficionados around the world.

Coming off a sub-standard fifth-place finish at the 2002 World Championship in Germany, a far from satisfactory 11th-place finish at the 2003 World Grand Prix and a sixth at the 2003 World Cup a few months later, people in Cuba have been praying for rapid improvement in order to have some more medals to cheer.

The three time world champions play a hard, Russian-style power game and are traditionally exceptional jumpers and strong hitters. Indeed a former U.S. coach said of them “They are the best. You love to watch them, but you don’t like to play against them!”

The national team has included some of the world’s great players but some of the side that won the gold medal in Sydney 2000 have now retired. Younger players are being drafted into the team to lay the foundation for a solid performance in Athens 2004.

Finishing second at the 2003 Norceca Championships did a lot to lift morale, as it booked their Olympic ticket and helped Cuba to maintain sixth place on the FIVB world ranking list. But after dominating women’s Volleyball in the 1990s it is now in the hands of the likes of Yumilka Ruiz, Barros Fernandez and Mesa Luaces to lead a relatively inexperienced side in to the winner’s circle, where their predecessors have been so many times before.

Cuba has been three-times World Champion in 1978 – Sankt Petersburg, 1994 – São Paulo, 1998 – Tokyo and four-times World Cup winner (1989, 1991, 1995, and 1999).