1970: Surprise World Championship gold for the German Democratic Republic
In 1970, both FIVB World Championships were again held in just one country. From September 20 to October 2, Bulgaria hosted the world's best teams, with the defending men's champions from Czechoslovakia and women's champions from Japan both dethroned.
While the Soviet Union’s ladies secured their fourth title in the history of the World Championships, the German Democratic Republic were the surprise winners in the men’s competition. The manner in which the East Germans won the title was particularly sensational.
As was the way back then, the final round was played in an eight-team round-robin format. By the final day, hosts Bulgaria had won all of their six matches. The GDR went into the all-important final match having suffered defeat at the hands of Japan (2-3). The East Germans looked like they were going to lose the fifth and final set of their match against Bulgaria, trailing 1-10 and 5-13. The home favourites, including superstars Dimitar Karov and Dimitar Zlatanov, then lost their nerve, however.
In fact, they failed to win another point and when Siegfried Schneider blocked Bulgaria’s Zlatanov on the fourth match point, the unthinkable became reality. The GDR won the match and, for the first and last time, the title. With both teams ending the final round with six wins to their name, it came down to the number of sets won: the German Democratic Republic (20-6) emerged triumphant, after dropping just one set less than Bulgaria (20-7).
The key to the East Germans’ success was good technique and the athleticism of the team, which had already caught the eye when they won the World Cup in 1969. The outstanding players for the champions, who dominated in both attack and defence, were Siegfried Schneider, Arno Schulz and Rudi Schumann. The latter was named MVP at the end of the tournament.
Bronze went to Japan, who once again missed out on the title. The Japanese team, which featured setter Katsutoshi Nekada, did, however, have the honour of being the only team to defeat the eventual gold medalists. They also finished above the defending champions from Czechoslovakia, who finished fourth – the first time for 20 years that they were to leave the World Championships without a medal. The Czechoslovakian squad still included four players from the gold-winning 1966 team, but no longer possessed the attacking skills displayed four years earlier.
Disappointment, however, was even greater for the Olympic gold medalists and record World Championship winners from the Soviet Union, who had to settle for sixth place after five defeats in the final round (including a 1-3 against the GDR). This was the Soviet Union's worst World Championship run since the beginning of the competition. The team featured just four of the Olympic-winning line-up from 1968, however.
The best-placed team from Western Europe was Belgium in eighth. The competition was made up of 24 teams, including Iran, Venezuela and Guinea.
The ladies’ championship saw 16 teams in action, with the Soviet Union claiming its fourth World Championship title ten years after its most recent triumph in Brazil. The dominant team dropped just one set in the seven matches that made up the final round. This came in the 3-1 victory over archrivals and silver medalists Japan. Successful coach Givi Akhvlediani, who won the title as a player in 1952 and guided the Soviet Union to success in 1960 and 1962, had put together an unbeatable team.
Their usual fierce, attacking game was there for all to see, but exhibited far more depth and variety this time, which allowed them to overcome the experts in defence from Japan. The team was led by 32-year-old Lyudmila Buldakova, who was a member of the title-winning teams in 1956 and 1960. Buldakova also won Olympic gold with the Soviet Union in 1968 and 1972.
Bronze went to North Korea for the first time. They finished ahead of Hungary thanks to a superior set record. The World Championships were once again dominated by East European countries, with eight teams in the top ten. The GDR ladies finished tenth.
Read parts one to six of this series by clicking on the links below:
1966 and 1967: Soviet Union empty-handed for the first time
1962: Japan’s ladies produced “volleyball from another planet” to end the dominance of the hosts, the Soviet Union
1960: Volleyball fever in Brazil, both World Championship titles go to the Soviet Union again
1956: Czechoslovakia claim trophy in Paris
1952: Soviet Union win double gold in Moscow
1949: Soviet Union win inaugural World Championships
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