1994: Cuba and Italy claim World Championship titles
Lausanne, Switzerland, August 7, 2014 - Russia and reunified Germany lined up under new names for the first time at the 1994 FIVB Volleyball World Championships, but attention focused elsewhere. In the ladies’ tournament, the legendary “Las Morenas del Caribe” from Cuba upstaged all the other teams at the showdown in Brazil, courtesy of a combination of incredible strength and skill.
Six perfect matches, all won in three sets, earned Cuba the title of World Champions for the second time after the surprise gold medal in 1978. With legends Mireya Luis, Regla Torres, Regla Bell, Magaly Carvajal, Marienys Costa and Lilian Izquierdo regularly on court, head coach Eugenio George brought perhaps the strongest team in the history of women's volleyball to Brazil. There was no hope even for the excellent home team, which was outclassed 0-3 in the final, despite vibrant support from the Brazilian crowd.
Brazil had come through a dramatic semifinal to win 3-2 against Russia, who went on to beat South Korea to secure bronze in the third/fourth place playoff. In the end, however, the hosts could still be happy with their efforts – after all, their silver medal was the first for the proud volleyball nation at the Women's World Championships.
Another of the tournament’s positive surprises came from the reunified German team, which ended the tournament in fifth place - the Germans were unfortunate to come up against Cuba in the quarterfinals. The new stars from the Caribbean also picked up the most individual awards at the end of the competition - Regla Torres was named MVP and best blocker, while Mireya Luis, who appeared to have springs in her feet, was the best hitter.
The men’s championship, which was held in Greece for the first time in its history, was a much closer affair. In the end, the Italians, who had surprisingly crashed out at the quarterfinal stage of the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, were able to defend their title. Just as they did when they won their first gold medal in 1990, the Azzurri made a poor start, including a 2-3 defeat to Japan. The Italians, led by Lorenzo Bernardi, gathered momentum as the final round progressed, however, easily beating hosts Greece and earning successive 3-1 victories over Russia, Cuba and then the Netherlands in the final.
Italian star Andrea Giani recalled: “You never start a tournament expecting to win gold, but out of our three titles this one was the most anticipated. Since the start of our golden era in 1989, we had recorded a series of major successes, including two gold medals and one silver at the European Championships, and we wanted to fight back after a disappointing Olympic campaign in Barcelona.”
“Velasco had added some new players to the group - Papi, Giretto, and Pippi - and there I recall an interesting anecdote. I started the tournament playing as opposite while Zorzi was one of our middle-blockers, but for the final match we switched our roles again. I don’t know how many players could do the same nowadays. Actually, there is one who did so at the 2012 London Olympics, and he eventually brought gold to his team: that was Dmitriy Muserskiy.”
Joop Alberda's Dutch team defeated the United States in the semifinals, with the Americans settling for the bronze medal after defeating Cuba in the third/fourth place playoff. Russia finished down in seventh, their worst World Championship performance to date, including their record under the Soviet Union banner. Hosts Greece, who were cheered on by their home crowds in the Peace and Friendship Stadium, finished sixth to claim their best ever result.
Read about earlier editions of the World Championships by clicking on the links below:
1990: Last World Championship title for the Soviet Union and first for Italy
1986: USA bring a halt to East European dominance
1982: The Soviet Union and China win gold at World Championships
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