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The Olympic women’s volleyball final of 2004 was a face-

off between the winners of the silver medal at the two

previous Olympic Games, China and Russia, with the

Russians destined to play the role of bridesmaids once

again. Russia, runners-up in Sydney four years earlier,

enjoyed a thrilling five-set semifinal win over Brazil after

trailing by two sets to nil. In the other semifinal, China

were also taken to five sets, but they actually led by two

before being hauled back by Cuba, winners of the three

previous Olympic gold medals. China survived to reach the

final while Cuba had to settle for bronze. After two such

compelling semifinals, the final did not disappoint. China

lost two tight sets, then won the third.They were down 23-

21 in the fourth before squaring the match and taking the

final set to win 3-2 (28-30, 25-27, 25-20, 25-23, 15-12).

Italy and the United States, the 2002 World Championship

winners and runners-up respectively, were both eliminated in

the quarterfinals. Russia’s Ekaterina Gamova finished as top

scorer. In the men’s tournament, Giba was voted MVP after

leading Brazil to the gold medal. In the final at the Peace and

Friendship Stadium, Brazil won 3-1 (25-15, 24-26, 25-20,

25-22) against Italy, who had seemed destined never to win

Olympic gold despite dominating the game in the 1990s.

Brazil’s Mauricio Lima was also on the 1992 Olympic gold

medal-winning team, while Italy had a five-time Olympian

in Andrea Giani. The Russians beat USA to claim the bronze

medal after only just qualifying from their group.



Volleyball at the 2000 Sydney Games featured new rules,

old heartbreak for Italy’s men and renewed glory for Cuba’s


The libero was introduced for the first time and the scoring

was changed. Now, points could be scored regardless of

who was serving. Sets were played to 25, except for the

fifth set, which was played to 15.

Reigning women’s world champions Cuba were regarded

as one of the most successful sporting teams in the world.

Could the Cubans win a third successive Olympic gold

medal? They reached the final, but were defeated by

Russia in the preliminary round in a five-setter and only

narrowly defeated Brazil in a marathon semifinal. The

final pitted them against the Russians once more. Things

looked bleak for Cuba when they lost the first two sets.

But they then showed why they had won almost every

tournament since 1992, taking the last three sets to win

a third consecutive Olympic title. Four players – Regla Bell,

Marlenis Costa, Mireya Luis, and Regla Torres – played in

all three of those Olympics.

Italy’s men had won the last threeWorld Championships but

had yet to win Olympic gold. They swept through their pool

undefeated and beat hosts Australia in the quarterfinals,

but then fell to Yugoslavia in the semifinals. They eventually

took the bronze. Yugoslavia had struggled in the pools, but

in the final they defeated Russia in straight sets 3-0 (25-22,

25-22, 25-20) to claim an historic gold medal.

Making only their third Olympic appearance, Yugoslavia knocked

out the world champions Italy and World Cup holders Russia on

their way to the title

China showed great tenacity to fight back from two sets down in

the final against Russia to win their second Olympic title



In 1999, Dutch television viewers chose the 1996 men’s

Olympic volleyball final as the top sporting moment of the


Italy were the favourites, but the Netherlands were also

strong. The two countries had met in the finals of the 1993

European Championship, the 1994 World Championship,

the 1995 European Championship and the 1995 World

Cup, with Italy prevailing on every occasion. However, the

Netherlands had upset Italy in the final of theWorld League

only a few weeks before the 1996 Olympics. Italy beat their

rivals in a Group B match but both made it through to the

final. Italy’s Andrea Giani spiked the ball off the arm of Bas

van de Goor for match point. But Van de Goor responded

with a spike that tied the scores at 15-15. The Dutch then

scored three straight points to win 3-2 (15-12, 9-15, 16-14,

9-15, 17-15). Yugoslavia defeated Russia in five sets for

the bronze.

For the first time, the women’s tournament comprised 12

teams. Cuba were the hot favourites. Despite finishing

third in Group B, they reached the final, where they met

unbeaten China, now coached by Lang Ping, star of their

1984 gold-medal-winning team. China won the first set,

but Cuba took the next three 3-1 (14-16, 15-12, 17-16,

15-6). Russia’s women suffered the same fate as their

men, finishing fourth, in their case behind Brazil.



Barcelona provided a platform for teams from Central and

South America to show their new-found volleyball prowess,

with first-time Olympic gold medallists in the shape of

Cuba’s women and Brazil’s men.

Since their last appearance at the Olympics in 1980, the

Cuban women’s team had established themselves as the

best team in the world, winning their first major title at

the previous year’s World Cup. Now they were out to break

the Soviet/Japanese domination of Olympic volleyball. The

women’s semifinals featured the four best teams in the

world: Cuba, CIS (formerly USSR), Brazil and USA. USA led

Cuba 9-8 in the fifth set before Cuba scored five straight

points and won the decider 15-11. In a tight final against

the CIS, Cuba triumphed 3-1 (16-14, 12-15, 15-12, 15-13),

while USA, featuring tournament MVP Paula Weishoff,

pipped Brazil to the bronze.

Inspired by up-and-coming coach José Roberto Guimarães,

Brazil beat tournament favourites USA – the 1984 and

1988 Olympic champions – in the semifinals before

comfortably winning the gold-medal match 3-0 (15-12, 15-

8, 15-5) against the Netherlands, who had come through

despite losing four of their pool matches.

The finals at Barcelona’s renowned Palau Sant Jordi, were

deservedly described in the 1992 Official Olympic Report

as “an extraordinary explosion of colour.”

Bas van de Goor saved a match point against Italy before the

Netherlands scored three consecutive points to claim their maiden

Olympic title

Cuba broke the Soviet/Japanese domination of women’s volleyball

by claiming the first of three successive Olympic titles in Barcelona