1974: Poland surprise favourites to win Men's World Championships
The favourites going into the eighth men's FIVB World Championships were record World Champions the Soviet Union, the Japanese - Olympic gold medalists two years earlier in Munich - and perhaps also the defending champions, the German Democratic Republic, who arrived with a rejuvenated team. But nothing turned out as expected.
Poland, who had finished ninth at the Olympic Games in 1972, secured the title in this championship, which was held between October 12-28 in Mexico.
The hosts of the 1974 FIVB Men’s World Championship still attribute this success to the young coach Hubert Wagner, after whom a well-known memorial tournament is named. Old warhorse Edward Skorek and young hotshot Stanislaw Gosciniak were also largely responsible for the sensational success, however, rescuing the title for Poland against Japan on the final day of the tournament.
Indeed, Poland were leading against the Olympic Games winners by 2 sets to 1 and were 13-3 up in the fourth set. But then the nerves began to set in. Japan managed to pull level at 13-13 and even went 15-14 into the lead. If Poland had lost the match, the Soviet Union would have been World Champions once again due to their superior set ratio. But then Gosciniak turned things around and his successful pass resulted in a final score of 17-15. With that, the outsiders were World Champions.
At the start of the six-team final round, Poland had beaten the Soviet Union 3-2. This left the record world champions with silver, mainly because they were without an outstanding setter like Gosciniak in their team. The Poles were also stronger mentally, however. Against the German Democratic Republic and Czechoslovakia, they also waited for the fifth set to clinch victory. Japan took bronze ahead of the dethroned defending champions, the GDR.
Among the 24 participating teams, those from Eastern Europe dominated once again, with six teams finishing in the top seven. Only Japan were able to infiltrate the ranks. Acclaimed hosts Mexico finished behind Cuba and Brazil in tenth position. Interestingly, the hosts' women's team also finished tenth out of 23.
In contrast to the men's competition, however, the women's tournament went pretty much according to plan. The Japanese women secured their third and to date final World Championship title after 1962 and 1967. They played eleven games at the showdown, won eleven times and only lost two sets. The crowning glory for the women from the Far East came in the final game of the tournament when they gained revenge for their defeat in the finals of the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972 against the Soviet Union. In just 60 minutes they dethroned the defending champions 3-0 and delighted 9000 fans in Guadalajara. Even more so when, at the end of the match, they pulled small silk scarves in Mexico's national colours out of their shorts and waved them at the spectators.
In the preliminary round, the Japanese women played against the Federal Republic of Germany, Poland and China. The record World Champions - the Soviet Union - had to make do with silver behind the dominant Japanese. Bronze went to Korea, after North Korea had managed to finish third four years earlier. The North Korean women did not participate in the final round of the FIVB World Championships in Mexico.
The German Democratic Republic finished in a thankless fourth place, just like the country's men's team. Two nations made their one and only appearance at the FIVB World Championships in 1974: the Philippines (18th) and the Bahamas (23rd).
Read about earlier editions of the World Championships by clicking on the links below:
1970: Surprise World Championship gold for the German Democratic Republic
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