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LONG BEACH, Calif. (May 10, 2012) – “Home” is a word that most athletes don’t take for granted. The walk through their front door doesn’t occur all that often, so when an opportunity arises to train at home, it is not something most people could pass up.
Since 2000, U.S. Men’s National Volleyball Team libero Rich Lambourne (Tustin, Calif.) has played for eight different professional volleyball clubs (Aoon hotVolleys Vienna, Piet Zoomers Apeldoorn, Lamis, Noliko Maaseik, AZS Olsztyn, Lokomotiv-Belogorie, Delecta Bydgoszcz and Fart Kielce) in six different countries (Austria, Netherlands, Greece, Belgium, Poland and Russia) while jumping back and forth for international competition with his United States team.
But this year Lambourne decided to stay in Anaheim, Calif., to train at home, a decision that has proven to be best for him and for the team. Anaheim serves as the Official Host City of USA Men’s and Women’s National Volleyball Teams, acting as a home base for the traveling nomads away from their own home.
“Staying at home was great for me from a mental standpoint because being overseas is a bit of a grind at times,” Lambourne said. “Playing overseas gives you the opportunity to play at a high level in real competition, but it can be a lot to be in a foreign country without your family. Here I have time to get a good few hours in the gym.”
Lambourne has a brother, Stuart, and two sisters, Gwen and Tracey, with three nephews, three nieces and a fourth niece on the way.
“A lot of my family lives close to here so it was great to see my nieces and nephews a lot, play golf and get a little time on the beach for workouts,” Lambourne said.
Lambourne and his teammates are in the midst of a ‘home’ tournament, one of significant importance. The U.S., the reigning 2008 Olympic Games champion, is hosting the eight-team NORCECA Men’s Continental Olympic Qualification Tournament in nearby Long Beach. The winner of the tournament advances to the Olympic Games.
Ending in 1996, the previous Olympic gold medal winning team in volleyball would automatically get a bid to the next Olympics. With that rule no longer in play and only 12 teams invited to compete on the world’s largest athletic stage, the United States is experiencing a must-win feeling this week at the Olympic Qualification Tournament.
“It is what it is at this point,” Lambourne said. “This is where the rubber meets the road because at this point it doesn’t matter how long we haven’t been together or where everyone played. We have to perform at our highest right now.”
The Journey to London Begins in Anaheim, the slogan for the City branding its involvement with the National Teams and the Olympic Games, creates an ideal training environment for each athlete to reach peak levels. Lambourne’s training success in Anaheim this winter and spring benefited in part to the other national team athletes that stayed local. Clay Stanley (Honolulu, Hawaii) was injured and was able to recover in the U.S., while Riley Salmon (League City, Texas), Gabe Gardner (San Clemente, California) and Ryan Millar (Alpine, Utah) also were training at the facility for most of the season.
Lambourne has been with Team USA since 2000 and experienced the height of most athletic sports; winning a gold medal at the Olympic Games. The 2008 season for the U.S. Men’s National Volleyball Team was one for the record books and Lambourne’s Olympic debut. Now as a veteran of the Games Lambourne continues to be the leader on and off the court that the team needs him to be.
“My leadership role is no different than it has been in the past,” Lambourne said. “The nature of my position gives me a responsibility of organizing the defense which goes hand and hand with leadership.”
Volleyball players don’t get the luxury of playing together for an entire year. They have to get used to playing with other athletes, under various coaching philosophies and in front of different crowds; a unique situation that not all professional athletes are acquainted with.
“I like the group that we have, it is a pretty good vibe right now,” Lambourne said. “We have some roles that are more clearly defined than I think we have in the past which is really important as it allows us to play at our potential.”
When given two weeks to prepare for a once in four year chance and to prove to the world your talent, at some point the athletes have to let go and just trust in their abilities and their teammate’s abilities to do their part to get the job done.
“We know that if we do what we are supposed to do on our side of the net then everything else should fall into place,” Lambourne said. “We use video for our fine tuning, check out specific issues and then those short practices are used to fix those problems specifically altered to who our next opponent will be. Our fundamentals are the same; we serve at a high level and pass at a high level and no matter who we are playing that will not change. We think we have the strongest middle blockers in the tournament and we will utilize them regardless of who we are facing. Our practices are used to maximize those advantages.”
Team USA is just two wins away from securing a spot at the 2012 London Olympic Games and all eyes are focused on the gold. With a win, the team will mark its first Olympic qualification on U.S. soil after winning the previous three events in Canada (2000) and Puerto Rico (2004 and 2008).