London 2012

London OlympicS blog

Tom Hoff

August 22, 2012 - I played a lot with the Russian guys and seen a lot of them go through what I would call the growing pains of an upcoming champion. They’ve been close to this end goal of a gold medal and had it within reach over the last couple Olympics, and they have come up short. They’ve won other major tournaments but have never captured that Olympic title so I was glad to see them band together as a team and do it, especially in the manner as they accomplished it. To battle back from one point away from having their Olympic dreams crushed to mounting a glorious comeback was an absolute wonderful way to see them reach the pinnacle.

Muserskiy impressed big time. I actually played with him back at a Russian club team, Belgorod Lokomotiv, when he was something like 18 years old, and I was in awe more from his athletic ability and work ethic along with his height. Seeing how he played at the most critical of times for his country in the gold-medal match, I am certain we will be seeing much more of Muserskiy and his MVP-like performances at world tournaments going forward.

I think this loss will have Brazil absolutely devastated. Not only losing two gold-medal matches but to lose it in the fashion that occurred versus Russia will most likely raise major questions about that team. They have a very similar competitive environment as we do here in the United States. When you come back to the USA after the Olympic tournament, you only get one question when you get home: “Did you win? Where’s you’re gold medal?” I have heard it is a bit different reception outside the USA, Silver and Bronze medals are more revered, but in the US it’s pretty much: “where’s your gold medal, you went the Olympics, where is it?”

I believe the Brazilian team and staff will be haunted for many years until they can exercise the demons of losing two gold medal matches. That is something that will have to carry with them and use for fuel for motivation for 2016. They have a lot of questions to answer by the time Rio comes around.

The other interesting thing is they don’t traditionally win tournaments in Brazil. What we have heard is a superstition that was well known when we were competing – Brazil does not have the greatest success rate winning world major tournaments on Brazilian soil, so that will most likely be an added internal pressure for them.

I feel very confident looking at our team’s chances in four years’ time. We most likely we see a large exodus of older, more experienced guys who have been on several Olympic rosters, either through retirement or through the need to rebuild the team. My personal opinion and seeing the games from my couch, Matt Anderson is a key component you would want to build our USA team around going forward. What he brings to the game – from his passing to his hitting and serving – made him integral to the most successful periods on the court for Team USA in London. With that being said, he had a great Olympics numbers/stats-wise but I can assure you Matt does not go to the Olympics to put good numbers up. He is putting in the time, energy, and commitment to the game to go to the Olympics for his team, to win. He’s a young guy who I think sees through all the distractions, and knows what’s really important to him – which is to win.

As for what happens after you win a gold medal, I’m not sure about other people, yet I started waking up soon after achieving our team’s journey to the gold (and my journey was 20+ years) and asking myself what is my next challenge to focus my internal drive on….And those questions in my mind have motivated me to pursuits outside of volleyball, with work at a predictive analytics software company called Predixion Software; and I work with incredible people, in a similar team environment, that has great aspirations of success.

I happen to keep our medal in a drawer right by my socks. My kids and their friends can wear it anytime they want for dress up or whatever. Some people think that’s a little bit weird and think I should put it in a safe or a frame. But mine is a bit beaten up and scratched up already. I had very strong visions when I was younger. The initial vision, the one that started my journey, was that I was going to earn the right to be an Olympic gold medalist and that was etched and burned in my mind and I did everything I could over 20 years to get there. Once our team made that a reality, my next thought as they were putting the medal on me and my teammates was: “What should I do with this? Where should it be?” And as I saw the ribbon, or lanyard, around my neck, I decided that I’m going to allow so many people to be a part of this experience (the journey to the medal), to wear it, to hold it, and to come in contact with. Whether that’s at my house, talks, schools, volleyball clubs, wherever. I strive to have so many people be able to interact with it that I want to eventually wear the lanyard out. So my next journey with the medal, to have the lanyard be shredded down, is to bring it into the lives of as many kids as possible in order for them to begin to dream about their own journeys of success.

I make every effort possible for kids to come in and when I show it to them I tell them that it is attainable. If you’re willing to allow your passion to drive you to put in a ton of hard work, enable incredible persistence and be very methodical in your pursuit; every kid can achieve extraordinary success. You can achieve greatness in your life, whether that’s Olympics, whether that’s in school or whether that’s in your professional life. Those ingredients are all part of a formula for success and excelling in your chosen craft. There’s no special elixir or short-cut, and kids need to know that is why it will be an incredibly rewarding journey to own. I sat in the same schools, the same gyms as everyone else. I am nothing special; I’m just a regular guy that was willing to do the things necessary to be part of an Olympic Champion team. My teammates and I gave up a tremendous portion of their lives to dedicate it to being part of something great, along with support from USA Volleyball, our families and friends; we happened to put all the pieces together. We had everything come together at the right time, and it was a very unique opportunity that we were all able to achieve together. And it is truly special.

Tom Hoff was captain of the USA team that won gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and also helped his side clinch the 2008 FIVB Volleyball World League title as well as silver at the 2005 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Champions Cup. He has competed on the last three Olympic teams and more recently he was part of the USA coaching staff at the 2010 FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship in Italy. He is currently retired from Volleyball and working for Predixion Software in addition to enjoying his post-volleyball time with his five daughters in Laguna Niguel, CA.

Virna Dias

London, Great Britain, August 12, 2012 – I believed in the team right from the beginning, they are the Olympic champions and they proved why in the final against USA. It was a brilliant match and a brilliant result. They had some problems earlier in the competition but after the game against Russia I knew they would win the title.

Having played with many of the players, I am so happy for them. This gold medal and the one from Beijing is the result of all the work from the teams from the 60s, 70s and 80s. This is culmination of all the hard work of the players which preceded them.

I know I had said the match would go five sets, but the match was equally as exciting and I will take winning in four any day. During the first set Brazil was nervous, but from the second set they started to play like they, and we, know how they can. Jaqueline defended superbly and she was outstanding on attack, she is a very complete player while Sheilla and Fabiana also played key roles in the victory.

What does the future hold? I think it is a similar situation as Beijing. After the victory four years ago Brazil introduced some new players, older ones retired, so we needed to find other players to replace them that’s why during the four years there were some problems but such is the quality of coach Ze Roberto, he managed to get the team over the finish line in the end. Now we have plenty of new players on the scene back in Brazil pushing their case so expect there will be some changes to the team but the key is the reappointment of coach Ze Roberto. He has done superbly and I know when I played under him at Athens how he can motivate a team and from my point of view, consistency is the best policy.

Virna Dias is a former Brazilian national team player and three-time Olympian. She won bronze at the 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney Games and finished fourth at the 2004 Athens Games. Virna also won the 2004 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix and clinched silver in 1999, where she also claimed the MVP, Best Receiver and Best Scorer awards. She was also a FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Cup silver medallist in 2003. This is her second Olympic Games as TV commentator for the Brazilian channel Rede Record.

Virna Dias

London, Great Britain, August 10, 2012 – Another final starring Brazil and USA will determine on Sunday the winner of the gold medal at the Olympics. They are two different teams, with peculiar features. Brazil has a lot of power in their attack and their blocking technique is awesome. The USA have a lot of technical sureness, with a spectacular blocking and defence system. But you should never forget that the last Olympic champions are Brazil.

They are a team which has been growing match-by-match during these Olympic Games. It’s a tough final, too tough to say in advance who is the best team.

Regarding Brazil, they’ve lost some matches during the pools but now they’ve found their best way to play. Danielle Lins is accomplishing a game with more speed, it’s clear how she can use her middle blockers in the best way, and now she can play the final… When you lose a setter like Fofao, and it has happened before with Fernanda Venturini, everyone talks about it. The loss of such a great player can influence the team. However Dani showed how much personality she has – now all the criticism about the new setter has vanished, she’s shown how good she can play and she became better and better in London, day-by-day, as her team did.

In Team USA, Foluke Akinradewo, Logan Tom and Destinee Hooker are the most dangerous players, while among the Brazilians I would point out Sheilla, Fabiana and Thaisa. It will be a very long match. You can bet on a five setter, 42-40 for the fifth set. Of course I cheer for Brazil. Those girls are my daughters. I’ve seen some of them when they were just young girls. And now I will do TV commentary for their Olympic final…

Virna Dias is a former Brazilian national team player and three-time Olympian. She won bronze at the 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney Games and finished fourth at the 2004 Athens Games. Virna also won the 2004 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix and clinched silver in 1999, where she also claimed the MVP, Best Receiver and Best Scorer awards. She was also a FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Cup silver medallist in 2003. This is her second Olympic Games as TV commentator for the Brazilian channel Rede Record.

Daniel Castellani

London, Great Britain, August 6, 2012 - My first cue for these Olympic Games in London are for USA men’s team, which impressed me a lot. I admire the way they do programmes for the Olympics. They made it once… Ok, maybe it was by chance. Twice, they were lucky maybe. But three times, and now they’re doing it again, no way: there’s a clear plan behind that. They are the only country which can plan so carefully the physical and technical preparation. In four years' time we saw some of these players growing really well and becoming real top players. A programme means that everything’s expected. You’ll have a time to work, then you will face a crisis; you’ll have a time to seed and days when you harvest. You will have heavy losses and nice wins before your final goal. This is a system that in other super-professional volleyball countries is impossible to plan because the pressure of sponsors or media will kill you. USA Volleyball knows how to obtain results by targeting sport events and how many losses you’ll have to face on your way to the podium. Some countries are trying to do the same, some others are living day by day, getting the best from what you have: then if you win you’re good, if you lose you’re an idiot.

Regarding a confrontation with Beijing, everyone now plays faster. At the same time, the blocks adapt their technique to catch those balls. If you don’t set extremely well, with maximum precision, the block will at least touch, or eventually block, every single ball. In London the spectators can realize how much the block can follow the fastest plays. Being fast of course does not mean doing quick attacks with the middle blockers: the key is for the setter to get the ball higher and set a ball trajectory almost parallel to the court floor, over the net. These balls simply need less second fractions to be spiked by the attackers jumping at the net’s extremes.

The setter used to mask their hands once, faking sometimes, and cocooning the ball. Now they ask for higher passes to get the ball over the net and speed up their game. This is what we’re watching in Earls Court: modern top volleyball.

Daniel Castellani, from Buenos Aires, is a former Argentinian national team player. He played in two Olympic Games, in Los Angeles and in Seoul where he won a bronze medal. His son Ivan is playing here in London. Castellani is now the coach of Finland, having guided his own country to the Olympic Games in Atlanta and then coached Poland at the 2010 FIVB World Championship.

Maurizia Cacciatori

August 4, 2012 - As a former setter, I would like to share my opinions about my favourite two setters so far in the Olympic tournament: USA’s Lindsey Berg and Eleonora Lo Bianco from Italy.

Lindsay spent seven of her last eight years, with the exception of the 2008/2009 season, playing in Italy with Pesaro, then Novara and eventually in Villa Cortese in the last three Serie A seasons. She played really well but I remember that in a few matches she lost the control of the game. Setters know very well that this may happen and that the coach will then take you off the court.

In London however, she has been outstanding. In each rally I saw she perfectly controlled her team. She is fast and precise with every ball she plays, no matter what kind of set it is or its distance or the zone she targets. Particularly her quick ball for the spikers in zone 4 is incredibly fast and really impressed me. Here in Earls Court she had the guts to find even difficult solutions to free her attackers from the opposing block. Ok, USA have great attackers…but she’s playing like a Swiss watch.

Lo Bianco has some problems with her back. Without knowing it from the Italian press, I could have never guessed that. This means that she is playing extremely well whilst hiding at the same time some physical problems. She always thinks clearly and that what is making a real difference for the Italian team. When things are not as expected or turning for the worse, she stays as a steady reference for the team. She has a strong personality to pull along the entire team.

When you see a setter showing this type of charisma, you can bet that her team will aim for the podium. Someone may think that since Berg and Lo Bianco are not tall players, they might not know how to block taller opponents. Setters have good hands. They know how to place them, controlling zone 2 of the net, and sometimes they can block even better than their teammates. One thing is for sure, Berg and Lo Bianco are never the weak link of their defense system.

Maurizia Cacciatori, 39-years-old, is the former captain and setter of the Italian team. After her debut in 1991, she collected 228 national caps. Best setter of the FIVB 1998 World Championship, she won the bronze medal at the European Championship in 1999. She’s now a technical commentator for SKY Sport, the sat TV which is the Italian rights holder for London 2012.

Motoko Obayashi

August 4, 2012 - Looking ahead to a very important day on Sunday and the quarterfinals and I have to say this is my third Olympics as a television commentator and the last two times Japan didn’t do very well, failing to reach the semifinals. This time they are doing very well. Since they had the chance a year ago to come to Earls Court and play some matches against Great Britain, it possibly has helped them prepare well.

Of course I would love for Japan to win a medal. When I played we narrowly missed an Olympic medal three times and since then there has been four Olympic Games and this is by the far the closest they have looked to winning a medal.

If they play an Asian team in the quarterfinals they stand a good chance because they have a good record against them and apparently coach Manabe has had two dreams about playing China in the quarterfinals so we will see. Japan has been performing well in serving, digging and reception and they need to continue that if they are to have any chance.

Although Brazil are not on top form they still have a lot of experience on the international stage so it would be nice not to have to play them or Turkey. Japan’s matches against Turkey prior to the Olympics were not good and Neslihan Darnel is a real danger weapon.

Whoever Japan plays, obviously Saori Kimura is a key player but she’s not 100 per cent yet. The other teams are marking her closely so there’s a lot of pressure on her. She has to focus and bring herself up to the level we know she can play in order for Japan to seriously entertain any thoughts of advancing.

One final note on the success of the tournament here at Earls Court. Great Britain was not well known for volleyball so I had never come to England before and I had no idea how popular it would and has turned out to be. I am completely surprised to see how the public has come to support the competition, the whole arena has been packed every day and the tournament has been extremely well organised.

Obayashi Motoko, 45, is a Japanese legend having played for the national women’s team from 1985 until 1996. She participated in four World Cups (1985, 1989, 1991, 1995), two World Championships (1990, 1994) and three Olympic Games (1988, 1992, 1996). A devastating left arm wing spiker, the former captain, who is now a volleyball commentator, was the first Japanese female player to play as a professional outside of Japan when she played in Italian Serie A club Ancona in 1995.

Tom Hoff

August 4, 2012 - I’ve seen the US guys play and I think we’ve played some fantastic volleyball. The team has come together at a terrific time but they were tested early on in the first match against Serbia. Serbia is a very good volleyball team with a very rich history and normally a difficult opponent to play against. They have great ball control but I thought we really showed how well we’re able to handle the ball and how much the USA block and defense can affect a game. We really aggravated their team and our block and defense really broke their momentum.

The team is obviously stepping into an enormous challenge to try and repeat the results from 2008, yet the bigger the challenge the more satisfying the experience. I think they’ve had a couple of challenging years in terms of consistency, and the ability to play at a high level from the beginning of a tournament to the end. I believe all those “trying” times are serving this team very well to show the world that there is still a strong core group of Olympic champions playing in these 2012 Games.

Once it gets to single elimination it’s a case of “win or your dreams are over” so I think the team is gaining confidence.

People always ask me ‘did you think you can win?’ I always did.

I didn’t play the game for anything else other than to go win an Olympic gold medal. Even when we didn’t do well in my first Olympics, I always believed we could win. As our team matured and got more experience; we repeatedly saw what it meant to be successful on the world stage and began to fine tune our process of building a successful team.

This is a different team than our 2008 obviously; yet the way we as players were trained from Hugh and our staff; we strongly did not agree with “hey you gotta turn it up now because it’s the Olympics.” We thrived and were empowered to go into practice and compete each and every drill and dissect each other’s weaknesses because we knew that is what happens when we would eventually try and earn a gold medal. And quite honestly, we developed this atmosphere or environment where we could beat each other up like crazy and occasionally go over the edge; and still continually build a healthy team relationship. It was an amazing thing that our coaching staff was able to instill over those years.

All the work that has been done in practice when fans are not watching, when there are no cameras, when there are no reporters – that was the time when our team created this foundation that allowed the team’s success in 08. And many of those players from ’08 are back proving themselves again; Stanley (who is playing like a possessed man; he is an incredible volleyball machine right now), Priddy, Lee, Lambourne ; they are all hungry for more. And we also have younger guys stepping up to carry an enormous performance load like Matt Anderson, who has been nothing short of amazing.

A lot of the guys on the team now have been to the top, they know what it takes to win, and that is a huge confidence boost. They fully realize that they have a lot more work to do. And as a volleyball fan, I cannot wait to watch.

Tom Hoff was captain of the USA team that won gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and also helped his side clinch the 2008 FIVB Volleyball World League title as well as silver at the 2005 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Champions Cup. He has competed on the last three Olympic teams and more recently he was part of the USA coaching staff at the 2010 FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship in Italy. He is currently retired from Volleyball and working for Predixion Software in addition to enjoying his post-volleyball time with his five daughters in Laguna Niguel, CA.

Maurizia Cacciatori

August 2, 2012 - Let’s start from the best, as far as I’ve seen. In the women’s volleyball tournament, team USA is really surprising me. From a technical point of view, in these first days of competition they showed a different rhythm and level compared to all other teams here in London. I was amazed by setter Lindsey Berg and how easily she manages the sets for her attackers, with perfect schemes for front and back row. Fluency and power are hard to be combined at the same time, but that’s what I saw in Earls Court when they play.

From our broadcasting position, up in the second ring of the venue, I was also surprised to follow their timeouts. The structure of USA coaching team is really peculiar, divided by role. I’ve appreciated watching the players of the bench grouping as well, depending on their respective role and giving suggestions to the starting six. They perform an outstanding teamwork.

Regarding the single stars, of course I’m in line with a lot of fans who like Yeon-Koung Kim. Her swing is so fast and it’s so stylish that I rather remember in the recent past a young player showing attack skills like she has. Moreover, she has a very South-American way to celebrate points, quite uncommon for a Korean player. You could even guess that she played abroad just for her cheering mode.

This is my first Olympic Game seen from the backstage and I feel daily a sort of sweet pain: because I have a sportive mind and at the same time I need to show my rational side which I think I’m still lacking a little bit. As TV technical commentator I have to comment the game of my former teammates, players that I know so well, with whom I shared hotel rooms, trainings, sets… I know what they do and why they do that: sometimes I would take off my headset to run into the court.

I’m watching volleyball from a different perspective. Now I see the media stands and the press rooms, I understand the work of journalists working 24-hour a day. It’s something I never understood completely, I thought that the media environment was much more simple. I was wrong. These guys are fantastic... As players, we think we’re the only one doing the tough job. Now that I know a little more about the communication world, well, I would change my mind.

Maurizia Cacciatori, 39-years-old, is the former captain and setter of the Italian team. After her debut in 1991, she collected 228 national caps. Best setter of the FIVB 1998 World Championship, she won the bronze medal at the European Championship in 1999. She’s now a technical commentator for SKY Sport, the sat TV which is the Italian rights holder for London 2012.

Andrea Lucchetta

July 31, 2012 - It’s nice to be back at the Olympic Games. I watch the matches from the broadcasters area, commenting men’s matches for RAI Sport, the sports channel of the Italian national television as I do during winter time for the Serie A. Believe me, I’m really happy to see here so many players of my generation now working with different roles. I saw USA playing and it’s nice to spot Karch Kiraly and Paula Weishoff on the bench, or Jenny Lang Ping on the stands, all gathered under the cozy roof of the FIVB house. I still have fresh memories of my three Olympic Games: Los Angeles ’84, Seoul ’88 - where I stayed at the Olympic Village because I had my ankle plastered - and Barcelona ’92, which is still remembered by our fans, together with Atlanta, as the biggest disappointment in the Azzurri’s history.

Once upon a time… Well, we did not have the FIVB Heroes, but I can feel now that all those great players of the past are still here, doing something else but still helping their sport. I was really moved by the opening ceremony when they’ve lighten up the cauldron: the idea of having 204 coppers, which all together compose the masterpiece, that’s exactly the empathy that I feel here with the FIVB family. We’re little individuals who are composing a big world of sport.

I mean, 15,000 people who watch a volleyball game in a country notoriously not familiar with volleyball… That’s something unbelievable! It’s clear evidence that the Federations are working with goals in mind as far as the promotion of the sport is concerned. I admit that I’m dreaming of a new step of the Heroes’ project. A heroes’ team travelling in all countries, playing with children and showing how brilliant and at the same time familiar a volleyball star can be. Volleyball should be everywhere and the top players should be effective ambassadors, traveling everywhere during the off season. Personally, I had always this in mind. Apart from my crazy layered hair, when I was a player I used to act like a joker even during top matches, doing pepper with ball retrievers or never missing a single autograph after the last whistle. You never know who will become that child that you ignored that day: a future player, a future sponsor, a future TV director who will always remember the sad day when a volleyball player was too annoyed to sign his or her notepad.

I have a last thought to share with the FIVB website readers. You probably know that just after the Olympic Games the next FIVB Congress in USA will discuss the approval of new rules. Well, I love the idea of changing the passing rule, which would allow only a perfect overhand pass. You do not understand me? If you have horse shoes attached to your wrists and not two nice hands forget about volleyball, you’d better receive the ball with a forearm pass, the typical “bagger”. This is a perfect rule which helps not to forget the correct technique. You can see here in Earls Court what the spectators really need: longer rallies. They like the power of men’s attacking and serving skills, but the loudest “uuuuuuhhhh” are for the best digs. That’s it. Volleyball should take these directions: longer rallies and the display of perfect technical skills.

Andrea Lucchetta, 50-year old former captain and middle blocker of the Italian team, left the court in 2000 after exactly 20 years of Clubs Serie A in Italy. With the blue jersey he won the World Championship in 1990 and was nominated best player of the event. He won as well 3 World League and 2 Club World Championships. After he retired, he started a TV commentator career and invested on volleyball promotion. His last effort is the production of a volleyball TV cartoon “Spike team”, which sees himself as a coach of a girls’ team.

Nikola Grbic

July 23, 2012 - I feel that the podium in London will be shared by Russia, Brazil and Poland but, like in Beijing and at a lot of other important tournaments, there are always surprises. I think that Germany can cause an upset or two, but I don't think they can win a medal. Also Serbia are very interesting. Keep an eye on them.

Germany can spring a surprise because they don't have any pressure, and they won against Bulgaria in Bulgaria in the Olympic qualifying tournament before losing to Italy 3-2 in the finals. They have a young team and an opposite in Georg Grozer who, on his day, can resolve a difficult situation with his serve.

In my eyes the Serbian team is a good mix of players playing in such an important tournament for the first time but lacking experience, and players who have already played at the Olympics and are big names in the international volleyball arena. The good thing is that, like Germany, they don't have any pressure on them to win, so they can play in a more relaxed way.

We saw what Serbia achieved in the European Championship when no one thought they could win it. What’s more, they don't have a star in the team like (Ivan) Miljkovic was last year so they are possibly stronger as a team, less individual. But as for individuals who might be the stars of the tournament, I would pick out (Michal) Winiarski (POL), (Alexander) Volkov (RUS), (Maxim) Mikhailov (RUS) and Grozer.

There is no particular secret to winning a medal at the Olympics, other than trying to be the best you can and to give everything you have. After that the result is not important, because you couldn't have done better and at least you'll have peace of mind. And of course there's a desire to be there, because just to be a part of the Olympic tournament with all those great athletes is a privilege. I can hardly describe the emotions when first we won bronze, and then gold.

When we went to Atlanta we were satisfied just to be there, just to participate. If we got into the quarterfinals that would be great, but if not it was also ok.

When we won the bronze medal, I was thinking that if I stopped playing volleyball at that moment it would be ok, because at the time it felt larger than life itself. Then Tokyo 1998 happened and a silver medal at the World Championship, and then Sydney!

The difference from Atlanta was that we weren't so anonymous any more and there were expectations to win a medal, so that put more pressure on us. But still, beating Italy in the semifinals and Russia 3-0 in the final was an outcome no one could have predicted. We weren't completely aware of how important our achievement was at the time. That came a few days later, when the emotions had evaporated. To be an Olympic champion is the biggest achievement a volleyball player can manage. It was like jumping over the rainbow.

Nikola Grbic is one of Serbia's most famous former players. Brother of another Serbia legend Vladimir, Nikola won gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and a bronze medal in 1996 at Atlanta. His international honours include silver and bronze medals respectively in the 1998 and 2010 FIVB Men's World Championship, as well as a gold at the 2001 European Championships.

Lang Ping

July 19, 2012 - From recent matches we can see that the young players of the US team are getting more and more experienced and more mature. This team is very balanced overall and also very strong over the net. In the last few years, they have had very good results in major international events including the World Cup and the World Grand Prix. For sure they will be one of the medal hopefuls for the London Games.

The Italian team has slipped a little bit in the last few years, but I think Carolina Constagrande will be the star to watch and I believe she can help the team a lot. Compared with the Italian team that took part in the Beijing Games, the current team is stronger in their powerful side attacks. Generally speaking, this team is very experienced, plays well both in offense and defence and I think they should not be underestimated.

The Brazilian team is also very strong. Most of their players have participated in the Beijing Olympic Games, where they got the gold medal. It seemed that they were not doing so good in last year’s World Cup and this year’s World Grand Prix, but maybe their lackluster results had something to do with the new format and scoring system because we can see that they lost a lot of points from five-set wins. Actually, the fact that they can win so many matches in five sets is proof of their strong abilities, and I think they will put on a good performance in London.

The Chinese team is very young, plays aggressively and with high spirit. They are also a well balanced team and they can play well in defence and offense. Of course, if Wang Yimei can make the comeback on time, they will be even stronger. Don’t forget that the Chinese women have won a lot of medals in previous Olympic Games and I think they also have a chance this time in London.

Turkey, Russia and South Korea could be the dark horses. In the last few years, a lot of good players from all over the world joined teams in the national leagues of Turkey, which benefited the local Turkish players a lot. I was there as a coach for a season and I could see that their teams played pretty well offensively and defensively. Maybe their national team doesn’t have much experience in major events like the Olympics, but I think they have the ability to produce some upsets if they can get well prepared mentally.

The Russian team have had ups and downs in the last couple of years, which made it really difficult to predict their performance. They play a different style of volleyball and they could be very dangerous in offense. They will have good results if they can perform to their top level. A medal? It’s possible.

The Korean team is also worth noticing thanks to the existence of Kim Yeon-Koung. The whole team plays well and Kim makes them even stronger. I think now she is already one of the best hitters in the world and she can also boost her teammates’ performance on the court. As an Asian player, she has had very successful spells in the Turkish League. That’s not easy, because the European players are physically stronger than the Asians. But Kim made it, and I think her experience in Europe demonstrated how strong she is.

Beside Kim, I think Destinee Hooker of the United States and Darnel Neslihan from Turkey also have the ability to change games for their teams. I knew Neslihan when she was 19 and she played very well in the Italian League. She is a very talented left-hand hitter, having good control of front row and back row defence. It’s really hard to stop her over the net. She has had quite a few top scoring performances in major international events, I believe she will excel in London.

Destinee is also a gifted hitter, very powerful in attack. I called on her to join the national training camp when I was coaching the USA team, and she is a very quick learner. There are actually a lot of talented players in the US team, while Destinee appears to be outstanding in this group of players. In general, I think Kim, Neslihan and Hooker will be the players that their teams can count on at crucial moments.

Lang Ping is a former Chinese volleyball player and coach. As a player she won gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games as well as the 1981 and 1985 FIVB Volleyball Women's World Cup and 1982 FIVB Volleyball Women's World Championship making her one of the most famous sporting icons in her country. After retiring she became a coach for the University of New Mexico for taking the helm of China's women's team, leading them to silver at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and 1998 FIVB Volleyball Women's World Championship. She later went on to coach USA in 2005, landing them silver at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. She is currently coach of Evergreen club in China.