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If statistics are any guide to women’s Volleyball,Russia – once known as the Soviet Union – has to be the greatest team ever. Just look at their four gold (1968, 1972, 1980,1988) and four silver (1964, 1976, 1992, 2000) Olympic medals, their five World Championship titles (1952, 1956, 1960, 1970, 1990), their three Grand Prix titles, plus one World Cup and 17 gold medals in the European Championships (1949,1950, 1951, 1958, 1963, 1967, 1971, 1975, 1977, 1979,1985, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1997, 1999, 2001). And the remarkable
thing is that after so long at the top, they’re not dizzy!

Since the inception of Russian women’s Volleyball in 1949 (at the time called USSR) there has been no other country, which has matched them for results. Tall, lean and formidable have been the characteristics which have dominated this country over the years and in 2004 it is no different. They have a formidable quartet in attack, able to dealwith anything that comes their way – Evgenia Artamonova, Elizaveta Tichchenko, Anastasia Belikova, and the lethal Ekaterina Gamova. Twenty-three-year-old Gamova stands at an incredible 204cm and is the best illustration of Russia’s potency and demonstrates the hurdle, both physical and psychological, that other teams must overcome when opposing this Russian team.

Their third-place finish at the 2002 World Championship was a surprise for not only Russia but the rest of the Volleyball community after heading into the tournament as favourites on the back of the 2002 World Grand Prix success. Add to that a fifth place finish at the 2003 European Championships and their failure to qualify for the 2003 World Cup and some may feel this team has entered something of a rut.

Having lost in the Sydney Olympic Games final 3-2 to Cuba,Russia extended their ‘losing sequence’ without an Olympic gold medal to 16 years. But there is no doubting that in 2004, with such a powerful lineup and rich history in the sport, Russia are one of the favourites to add to their Olympic medal collection in Athens.