1982: The Soviet Union and China win gold at World Championships
The 1982 FIVB World Championships were magnificent volleyball festivals. Peru’s ladies and the Argentinean men enjoyed passionate support from their home fans, but they also picked up their first ever World Championships medals. Gold, however, went to the dominant men from the Soviet Union and China’s women, who confirmed a shift in power.
Japan, defending champions Cuba and Olympic champions the Soviet Union, who had all made it to the podium at the 1978 showdown, had to settle for places four to six. The medals this year went to three new teams in the form of China (gold), Peru (silver) and USA (bronze). China rose through the ranks to number one within just eight years. The Chinese had finished 14th in 1974, sixth in 1978 – and captain Sun Jinfang stepped up to collect the World Championship trophy in 1982.
This outcome seemed less than likely in the preliminary round. China lost 0-3 to the United States who, under the guidance of legendary coach Arie Selinger, looked set to dominate the competition. The US women, however, then came up against hosts Peru in the semifinal. 14,000 fanatic spectators were whipped into a frenzy to create an incredible atmosphere. The US players could not hear a word of what they were saying, not to mention the instructions bellowed out by their coach. Peru pulled off a sensational 3-0 victory, making sporting history for the country in the Andes.
At an average height of just 1.73 metres, the Peruvian players achieved their country’s greatest international sporting success, under the guidance of their Korean coach Man-Bok Park. The likes of Cecilia Tait, Gina Torrealva and Denise Fajardo were household names throughout the country. They were brought back down to earth, however, after an emphatic 3-0 (15-1, 15-5, 15-11) defeat to China in a final that lasted just 51 minutes. Despite this, there was still no let-up in the volleyball fever. Chinese star Lang Ping – respectfully known as the "Iron Hammer" by the local media – and playmaker Sun Jinfang were the outstanding players in a team that became renowned for its captivating attacking play. It was this style of play which saw off the teams that had previously dominated at a World Championship, at which four East European countries did not take part for political reasons.
The men’s FIVB World Championships in Argentina were just as impressive. 18,000 spectators created an atmosphere akin to that usually found in a football stadium in the Luna Park in Buenos Aires, with chants, streamers and confetti. And the success of the South American teams obviously helped. Unloved arch-rivals Brazil ultimately finished runners-up behind the Soviet Union, with the hosts picking up a bronze medal.
The result heralded the start of a fantastic volleyball success story for Brazil, with stars like playmaker William da Silva and the attacking duo of Bernardo Rajzman and Renan de Zotto. The biggest surprise, however, was Argentina who, cheered on by their home crowds, raised their game to a whole new level. Korean coach Sohn Young-Wan managed to mould together a fine team within in very little time. Names like Castellani, Martinez and Conte were as famous in Argentina during this period as those of football stars Maradona, Kempes and Passarella. The third and fourth place playoff was evidence of the way the team had developed over the course of the tournament: the hosts triumphed 3-0 against Japan, to whom they had lost in the preliminary round.
The hosts had previously lost 3-0 to the Soviet Union in the semifinals, who went on to make short work of Brazil in the final (3-0). Coach Vyacheslav Platonov guided his team to a sixth World Championship title in ten appearances, losing only two sets en route. Afterwards, Platonov called his 1982 squad the best team ever. Just as they had been four years earlier, MVP Vyacheslav Zaytsev – father of current Italian volleyball star Ivan – and Alexander Savin were the defending champions' outstanding players.
Read about earlier editions of the World Championships by clicking on the links below:
1978: Italy and Cuba step into World Championships spotlight
1974: Poland surprise favourites to win Men's World Championships
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