It was hard to blame U.S. women’s volleyball captain Christa Dietzen if she looked a little lost. She was trying to find the right path to collect Team USA’s first world championship trophy in Milan’s Mediolanum Forum.
After all, it was the first time Team USA had ever won a FIVB women’s world championship dating back to 1952 when the tournament started. Team USA has never won an Olympic gold medal or a FIVB World Cup title.
Once she traipsed up the arena’s steps and was handed the trophy, however, she wasn’t letting it go. It was quite a birthday present for Dietzen, who turned 28 Sunday. The middle blocker, who had played despite an injured knee, scored 15 points and had seven blocks as Team USA won its first gold medal in any major volleyball tournament.
“It's the first time for the USA and we made it,” Dietzen said. “We represented present and future volleyball programs, but most importantly we did it together."
Team USA beat China, 27-25, 25-20, 16-25, 26-24, in the gold-medal match in a hard-fought week that included a devastating loss to Italy and an upset over No. 1-ranked Brazil. The Brazilians beat the Italians for the world bronze medal earlier in the day.
“We came here to make history,” U.S. coach Karch Kiraly told Universal Sports. “The U.S.A. was due.”
The day was full of history. Kiraly won his first of three Olympic gold medals 30 years ago in Los Angeles as an indoor player. China’s coach, “Jenny” Lang Ping also won a gold medal in the 1984 Games as her team beat the United States for the Olympic crown. Lang coached Team USA to a silver medal at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
“I told the team there’s just been this obstacle, this wall,” added Kiraly, who also won an indoor gold medal in 1988 and a beach volleyball gold medal in 1996. “It was cracking.”
Team USA hopes to continue to tear down that wall less than two years from now when the next Olympic Games are held in Rio de Janeiro. A three-time Olympic silver medalist in the Games, including the last two Games in Beijing and London, Team USA knows it will not be easy to win a gold medal in Brazil but could use this victory as momentum.
Kim Hill, who hammered down the gold-medal point for Team USA, was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament.
Team USA was in control the first two sets but China was too strong and took the third set. It appeared China might take the fourth set, too, as it rallied from four-point deficits to take a 23-19 lead. But Team USA recovered at the right time and after Hill’s title-winning kill, the players fell on top of each other on the court in celebration.
“It was not easy,” Kiraly said. “Never easy.”
Amy Rosewater is a freelance writer and editor for TeamUSA.org. She has covered five Olympic Games and her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today.