Rio de Janerio, Brazil. Well we did it. We, the USA volleyball team, became our countries first volleyball team to win the Gold at the World League since the tournament was started by the FIVB in 1990. It was quite an amazing feeling to be a part of history. It was even sweeter improving on our last year's finish of 3rd, at the time our countries best finish.
For those of you who may just be joining my posts, I'll take a little time to detail the significance of our recent triumph. World League began in 1990 as the largest organized prize money volleyball tournament in the world. The FIVB commits something close to 15 million dollars to pay our prize money for winning teams, best individual awards, and federations. It has grown into a 16 team, annual, tournament that consists of 12 matches for each team in pool play (4 teams/ pool) and 4 total pools. To win it all, you'll have to win something like we did - 12 of our total 15 matches. The top teams from each pool, plus the host country (this year Brazil), and a wild card chosen by the fivb, meet for a final round to decide the winner.
In the final round this year was perennial favorite Brazil (winners of the last 4 in a row), Serbia (Gold medalist in 2000), a strong Russia team, USA, up and comers Poland, and Japan.
The final round of the tournament was held in our favorite location of the event, Rio. We stayed in a marvelous hotel named "Gloria" which offered us all enormous rooms, great food (I am personally partial to Brazilian food after living and playing there in 2003), and a spectacular view from the pools to the Rio coastline topography. And to make matters even better, it felt like the middle of spring in what was Rio's middle of winter, ah...what great weather.
We took advantage of our accommodations to relax our state of mind heading into our first match. That did not work out so well for us. Our first match vs Serbia we came out flat and did not play well, loosing quickly 3-0. To Serbia's credit, they seemed to be peaking at the right time playing very sound volleyball.
We were forced to recover quickly, playing Poland the following day. Now we were not only in a must win (only two of the three teams in the final round pool moved to the semi's), but were playing a well rested team since Poland had the previous day without a match. Also, Poland is a very good team. They have been winning against some great teams the last several years (also a Beijing Olympic team).
We struggled, we fought, and we endured a long and debilitating match to win in 5 sets. We just pulled it out with a lot of courage and heart that those matches require. It was a great feeling and gave us a breath of hope to move to the semi's. All we needed now was Serbia to win against Poland the following day and we would qualify.
Serbia was nice enough to oblige. While we all took the morning off to take the famous train up to the top of the "Cristo Rendentor", a famous icon of Rio sitting atop the mountain overlooking the city, Serbia was preparing to help us out. We returned from out trip to the top of Rio and could barely come down from the high we had seeing Serbia trounce Poland 3-0. We were in.
The following day meant a long time clash with Brazil, the #1 team in the world for a few years now. To say the least, they were not #1 on this day. We came out strong and never held back, taking it to the Brazilians in front of their home crowd (who often booed and cheered against us all tournament long) winning in style 3-0. We were on to the finals in dramatic fashion, winning vs. the #1 country in the world in their home.
Finals were the culmination of some good luck and great timing by our team. Not only were we sort of lucky to get into the semi's, but we were great in timing our ability to play well against brazil, and soon thereafter, against our final foe, Serbia. We were forced to step it up for the sake of our country and history and enact a bit of revenge on Serbia....we won 3-1. We were champions of the World League for the first time in history.
As a finishing note, sitting up there on the podium just made you want more. Every one of us could feel that addiction to winning really set it. We had medals placed over our necks and awards were handed out to two of our best players that tournament, Lloy Ball was named MVP and Best setter, and Rich Lambourne was named best libero. Best of all, we all held the monster check for 1 million dollars together, high and proud, with our countries on our back and a bit of history forever in our souls.
Gabe Gardner is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This blog was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.