So Much More Than Silver
|The U.S. Women's National Team after receiving the silver medal at the London 2012 Olympics.|
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (August 11, 2013) – Before the London 2012 Olympic Games, then-U.S. Women’s National Volleyball Team Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon had a very simple message for his team: “We’re going there to play volleyball.”
“Hugh gave us a great perspective going into the Olympic Games,” U.S. middle blocker Christa Harmotto (Hopewell Township, Pa.) said. “There is a lot of ‘noise’ around the Olympic games. Fun noise, but it can also be distracting if you allow it.”
McCutcheon’s message was successful as the U.S. dominated pool play in London, finishing with a 5-0 record. This included victories over rivals Brazil and China, and a mere two sets lost (one apiece to Korea and Brazil). The team entered the knockout stage of the Olympic tournament in first place overall with 15 points in its pool.
“It was a great run,” U.S. libero Tamari Miyashiro (Kaneohe, Hawaii) said. “We played well for long periods of time which is a sign of a great team.”
Seeded No. 1 in the world going into the Olympics, the U.S. Women did not disappoint as the teams were slowly whittled down. In the quarterfinals, they swept the Dominican Republic. In the semifinals, they swept Korea. After two silver finishes in 1984 and 2008, they looked to be on the path to bringing home the first women’s indoor volleyball gold medal to America.
But the third time was not the charm, as the U.S. fell to Brazil in the gold-medal match, 11-25, 25-17, 25-20, 25-17. The Brazilians slid across the court as the Americans swallowed the bitter pill that they going home with the silver.
However, the pains of defeat did not last long.
“For sure it stung and still stings, but you always learn something from a loss,” Harmotto said. “I remember the point when the game was lost. I was disappointed for sure, but within five minutes the desire to pursue gold for another four years surfaced.”
Harmotto and Miyashiro are both still training and competing with the U.S. Women’s National Volleyball Team, which is currently playing in the FIVB World Grand Prix, the premier annual women's international volleyball tournament. They both have the 2016 Olympics in their sights.
While gold on the court was the goal at London 2012, the team ended up walking away with a gold medal in perspective. Despite McCutcheon's message, the women say their experiences extended far beyond volleyball. Harmotto was able to spend time at a Bible study in the Olympic village in a group made of athletes from six different countries that spoke six different languages.
“Two realizations occurred,” she said. “One, sport brings the entire world to one place. Two, that a common belief can bring people from anywhere in the world to be on the same page.”
Ultimately, when the team stepped onto the medal podium, though the medals hung around their necks were not the color they’d hoped for, the women were nothing but grateful. For the opportunity, for those that helped them get to where they were, and for the bond they now share with other Olympians.
The Olympics itself was an honor to be a part of,” Miyashiro said. “Americans genuinely love the Olympic Games and you can see it in conversations we have with fellow Americans. They are proud that USA is represented so well in the Games. People light up when you talk about the experience. It’s pretty great to be able to share it with others.”
Harmotto agrees and said she enjoys sharing her Olympic experience.
“When you become an Olympian you have an automatic platform,” she said. “What you choose to do with that platform is your choice. For me, there have been opportunities to share my experience with young athletes, with the community and also with my current teammates on the National Team. I've learned that people can't relate to the Olympian, they relate to the person and the challenges and victories you went through to reach your dream.”