By Paul D. Bowker | June 18, 2012, 2 p.m. (ET)
Team USA VolleyballThe U.S. Women’s National Volleyball Team, ranked first in the world, will seek to improve on its 2008 Olympic Games silver medal at the London Olympic Games.

HISTORIC VENUE


Earls Court, host of the women’s and men’s indoor volleyball competition, is no stranger to the Olympic Games. The facility was used to host boxing, gymnastics, weightlifting and wrestling competitions at the London 1948 Olympic Games. Originally the site of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and other events in the late 19th century, the land was sold in 1935 and Earls Court was constructed, creating an unprecedented 40,000 square meters of exhibition and show space. It remains one of London’s best exhibition and event spaces. Temporary seating, along with the volleyball court, was built into Earls Court for the London 2012 Olympic Games. The test event was held in 2011.

AN AMERICAN DESIGNER

American architect Charles Howard Crane, known for designing large movie cinemas in the 1920s, designed Earls Court, which opened in 1937. Among the many theaters he designed are the Fox Theater and Majestic Theater in Detroit and Fox Theater in St. Louis, which now are also used for musical concerts and other events. One of the now unused spaces at Earls Court: an empty swimming pool sits under the exhibition center’s concrete floor.

THE FORMAT

In both the men’s and women’s indoor competitions at the London 2012 Olympic Games, 12-team fields will be split into pools of six teams each. After the preliminary round, in which each team plays every team in its pool, the top four teams in the two pools (eight total) advance to the knockout phase. The knockout phase, beginning with the quarterfinals, continues until two teams are left to play for the gold medal. The preliminary round in the women’s competition begins July 28; the men begin a day later. The women’s gold-medal match will be played Aug. 11, followed by the men’s title match Aug.12. For beach volleyball, there will be 24 men’s teams and 24 women’s teams. Those 24 teams are divided into six pools of four for round-robin play. Sixteen teams will qualify for the knockout round, with the women’s gold-medal game on Aug. 8 and the men one day later. At the London 2012 Paralympic Games, eight-team fields will be split into pools of four teams each. After the preliminary round, in which each team plays every team in its pool, the top two teams in the two pools (four total) advance to the knockout phase. The knockout phase, beginning with the quarterfinals, continues until two teams are left to play for the gold medal.

THREE TOUCHES ONLY

Watch closely. A team is permitted to touch the ball just three times before sending the ball over the net, and one player can’t have consecutive touches. The game is lightning fast at the Olympic level, and one play among three different players using three different hits (dig, set, spike) may occur in a matter of two seconds. When one team attacks with a spike attempt, defensive players on the opposing team will quickly get into position to stop the ball before it hits the floor, or successfully “dig” the ball. Once a dig is completed, sending the ball high into the air, a setter will attempt to “set” the ball into the air for another spike by an attacker. Sitting volleyball, the only volleyball discipline played in the Paralympic Games, follows the same rules as its able-bodied counterpart with a few modifications, amongst them a net that is 2.5 feet high, a 10x6meters court with a two-meter attack line, and if a player attempts to block a serve, one “cheek” must be in contact with the floor whenever they make contact with the ball.

CREATED IN HOLYOKE

The roots of volleyball can be traced back to Holyoke, Mass., a small paper-mill city in western Massachusetts that is located next to Springfield, the birthplace of basketball. In 1895 William G. Morgan, an instructor at the Holyoke YMCA, created a sport called mintonette. It combined basketball, baseball, tennis and handball into a sport for local businessmen who wanted something with less physical contact than basketball. During a demonstration of the new game, someone said to Morgan that the players seemed to be volleying the ball over the net, which was situated 6 feet, 6 inches above the floor. The name of the sport was quickly changed to volleyball, and it stuck. While the game was actually created in Holyoke, the first real game was played on July 7, 1896, at Springfield College. It took another 68 years before the sport made its debut at the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games while it took another 16 years before amputee-friendly sitting volleyball was demonstrated at the Arnhem 1980 Paralympic Games.

THREE TIMES GOLDEN

Karch Kiraly, who is now an assistant coach for the USA Volleyball Women’s National Team, reached the top of the Olympic podium in both indoor volleyball and beach volleyball. He won Olympic gold with the U.S. men in 1984 and 1988, and then won gold in beach volleyball at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. He is the only player to win gold in both Olympic disciplines. While he grew up on the beach sand of California and was a four-time All-American volleyball player at UCLA, Kiraly is a native of Jackson, Mich. The head coach of the U.S. women’s team is also a decorated guy. Hugh McCutcheon guided the U.S. men’s volleyball team to the gold medal in Beijing. A member of the USA Sitting Volleyball Women’s National Team, Allison Aldrich will be traveling to her third Paralympic Games. The team claimed bronze in Athens and silver in Beijing.

LIBERO

OK, so what is a libero? The libero is one of six players on the court for each indoor team. The libero is clearly distinguished by wearing a jersey color that is different than his or her teammates, much like a goalkeeper in soccer. Libero players are specialized defensive players and may not play an attacking shot. The liberos on the U.S. women’s team include Nicole Davis, a 2008 Olympian who helped lead Southern California to two consecutive NCAA titles, and Stacy Sykora, a three-time Olympian.

FLAG WAVERS

Those officials you see waving flags at the corners of the court are actually line judges who help the two referees on line faults and whether the ball bounced inside the end line or outside of it. The officiating system uses two referees, one of them situated in an elevated chair above the net. They are assisted by scorers and line judges.

NUMBER ONE

The U.S. women have never won Olympic gold in indoor volleyball, but they’ll enter the London 2012 Olympic Games as the top-ranked team in the world. Among the team’s many stars is Destinee Hooker, who was named Most Valuable Player of the 2011 FIVB Grand Prix after the United States won the tournament for the second consecutive time. Three-time Olympians Logan Tom and Heather Brown are among those itching to turn 2008 Olympic silver into 2012 Olympic gold. The U.S. sitting volleyball women are also hoping to turn past success (2004 Paralympic bronze and 2008 Paralympic silver) into 2012 Paralympic gold.

SUMMER-SCHOOL TRAINED

Reid Priddy turned a summer-school class into an Olympic gold medal. A native of Richmond, Va., Priddy began playing volleyball after the family moved to Florida and he tried volleyball in a physical education class during summer school. That led to a high school state championship in volleyball in Arizona, followed by a college scholarship. At the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, Priddy helped lead the U.S. men to a gold medal, scoring 112 points — second highest on the team. He has been captain of the squad since 2010.

THE BEACH

Beach volleyball made its Olympic debut at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games and has been a big hit since then. The United States has been a dominant force at the beach, winning five of the eight gold medals in men’s and women‘s beach volleyball since 1996. The competition in London will be held at the Horse Guards Parade, a historical parade grounds in central London that dates back to 1745. It is home of the Trooping the Colour ceremony that is held each year on the Queen’s official birthday. To convert the area into the beach volleyball venue, 5,000 tons of sand is being brought in and a temporary arena is being built. There will be 24 men’s teams and 24 women’s teams in the competition, with two players to a team.

SIDEOUT

Before the sport of beach volleyball hit the Olympic stage, it hit Hollywood with the 1990 movie release of “Sideout.” The movie starred actors C. Thomas Howell, Peter Horton and Courtney Thorne-Smith, advertising itself as the ultimate beach movie. Chris Marlowe, who was captain of the U.S. men’s volleyball team which won gold at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games, had a role in the movie, as did Sam Lagana, a former promotions and public relations director for the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) Pro Beach Volleyball Tour.

SOURCES: USA Volleyball, International Olympic Committee, International Paralympic Committee london2012.com, Federation Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB), IMDb.com.

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Paul D. Bowker is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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