US beats Russia to reach Olympic volleyball final
BEIJING (AP) David Lee was right on top of Maxim Mikhaylov's spike. His outstretched hands sent the ball back over the net before the Russians could do anything to stop it.
And, with that, Lee pumped his fists and was mobbed by teammates.
The U.S. men's volleyball team beat Russia in a five-set semifinal Friday, assuring the Americans their first Olympic medal since 1992.
They will play for the title Sunday against Brazil, which defeated Italy 3-1 in the other semifinal. Russia and Italy will play for the bronze.
"I came alive," said Lee, who accounted for his team's final four points. "All match long I didn't think I played my best volleyball. I got it going in the end."
The Americans won 25-22, 25-21, 25-27, 22-25, 15-13 and remained undefeated in Beijing despite playing without their coach for three matches.
"David Lee just came up with some huge blocks - MVP right there," wing spiker Reid Priddy said. "That was huge, huge for us."
Captain Tom Hoff called the match an "awesome team performance."
This marks the first time since the 1984 Los Angeles Games that both the U.S. men and women will play for the volleyball gold. The women face Brazil for the title Saturday.
The men won gold in 1984 and 1988 before winning the bronze in Barcelona. The closest they've come since was fourth in Athens in 2004.
"We've got so much motivation, we've got motivation coming out of our ears," said setter Lloy Ball, who is playing in his fourth Olympics.
Russia was the bronze medalist in Athens and the silver medalist in 2000. The team won gold in 1964, 1968 and 1980. In Beijing, the Russians went 4-1 in preliminary pool play.
In a tight first set, the U.S. went up 17-16 on Stanley Clayton's ace, then added another point on Sergey Grankin's errant spike. The U.S. won it when Mikhaylov's spike went long.
Russia took a 16-13 lead in the second, but the United States made three straight points in the end to take the set. Priddy scored with two spikes before Yury Berezkho's spike went into the net to give the U.S. the set.
Alexey Kuleshov's block put Russia ahead 17-13 in the third set. The Russians extended the lead to 20-15, but the United States rallied again to even it at 24 before Russia won on Alexander Volkov's block.
That led to a tense fourth set. Russia was up 19-16 and won it on Sergey Tetyukhin's spike, sending the pro-Russian crowd to its feet.
Priddy's spike put the U.S. in front 6-3 in the deciding set, but the Russians kept pace and briefly went ahead until Lee's block made it 13-12 for the U.S. team. Lee led the rest of the way.
"The thing that really sticks to me is our last break," Hoff said. "We had some confusion, the guys were pretty amped."
That's when coach Hugh McCutcheon took charge.
"Hugh came over to us and said, 'Here's what we're going to do on this serve,' It had a great calming effect on us."
After winning all five matches in the preliminary round, the U.S. men beat Serbia in the quarterfinals 3-2 to advance. And they did it despite considerable adversity.
Before competition started, McCutcheon was called away from practice. His father-in-law, Todd Bachman, had been fatally stabbed at a Beijing tourist site. Bachman's wife, Barbara, was badly hurt.
McCutcheon is married to the Bachman's daughter, former Olympian Elisabeth "Wiz" Bachman McCutcheon, who played for the U.S. women in Athens.
The coach left the team to be with his family and missed three matches before his mother-in-law returned to the United States by air ambulance. Assistant Ron Larsen was interim head coach.
The U.S. players have marked their shoes with the initials of Todd and Barbara Bachman during games.
"We've been through a lot. We've had to endure some tough times," Priddy said. "But we're happy that our coach is here with is. And we're happy that Barbara is better."