1966 and 1967: Soviet Union empty-handed for the first time
The sixth edition of the FIVB World Championships provided a shake-up of the original format. The men’s and ladies’ competitions were held separately for the first time.
Czechoslovakia hosted the men’s tournament for the second time, after staging the inaugural event back in 1949. The ladies’ tournament was awarded to Lima, but Peru turned down the opportunity to host the World Championships in 1966. The event was postponed to January 1967 when the dominant nation on the ladies’ scene, Japan - World Champions in 1962 and first Olympic champions in 1964 - were assigned the task of organising the competition.
Political reasons, however, meant just four teams participated. As the hosts were unwilling to fly the flags and play the national anthems of the German Democratic Republic and of North Korea, all the teams from the dominant socialist states boycotted the tournament. This also meant there there would be no big duel between the Soviet Union and Japan.
The result was an easy route to victory for the hosts, although just two of the players from the 1962 World Championships-winning team were still involved. Japan successfully defended their title with three 3-0 victories over silver-medalists the United States, bronze-medalists Korea, and fourth-placed Peru.
The FIVB Men’s World Championships in Czechoslovakia, from August 30 to September 11, 1966, were considerably more exciting. The fact that only six of the 28 matches in the final round ended 3-0 is proof of just how evenly matched the competition was. 22 teams lined up at the tournament, with the preliminary round featuring two groups of six and two groups of five to determine the eight finalists. The four-time World Champions and defending champions from the Soviet Union suffered their first defeat in the preliminary round, in the form of a 2-3 loss against Hungary.
For the second time, after 1956, it was the much-lauded hosts Czechoslovakia who emerged triumphant from the dramatic final round, which was held in a round robin format. Despite losing 2-3 to Japan, their record of six wins from seven in the final round proved sufficient to take gold. Instrumental in the success was the diminutive, 31-year-old setter Josef Musil, who was also a part of the World Championships-winning team a decade earlier in Paris. Two-metre giant Pavel Schenk from Pressburg and captain Bohumil Golian, who was also in that gold-winning team from 1956, were also virtually unstoppable.
Silver went to Romania, whose hopes of winning the title were dashed by a shock 2-3 defeat to Poland in a match which lasted 200 minutes. Playmaker Aurel Dragan, known as the “Panther of Bucharest”, and attacking star William Schreiber were key figures for the Romanians. The Soviet Union, who had been the dominant nation in world volleyball, were fortunate to pick up bronze medals, finishing level on points with the teams from the GDR and Japan. One reason for the Soviets’ worst result in the history of the World Championships was the lack of an outstanding setter. Georgy Mondzolevski, who was instrumental in winning the title in 1960 and 1962, was not taken to the tournament.
So it was in 1966 and 1967 that the Soviet Union failed to win a title in either the men’s or ladies’ competition for the first time ever. The men from Eastern European countries, however, were once again the dominant force, occupying seven of the top eight places. Only Japan were able to mix it with the East Europeans. China were ninth, the United States 11th, Brazil 13th. The best-placed team from Western Europe were the Netherlands in 12th position.
Read more about previous editions of the FIVB Volleyball World Championships by clicking on the links below.
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