The U.S. men’s indoor volleyball team didn’t secure its spot at the London 2012 Olympic Games until two months before the Opening Ceremony. Team USA was able to give itself a bit more breathing room this time around, as the U.S. men punched their ticket to next summer’s Rio Olympics by earning gold at the FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Cup on Wednesday in Tokyo.
The win was Team USA’s first World Cup crown in 30 years. The World Cup had long been a thorn in the side of the U.S. men’s team. Prior to this week, its only two podium finishes were a gold in 1985 and bronze in 1991. Team USA then finished fourth in four consecutive tournaments and sixth in 2011.
As only the top two teams at the World Cup earn automatic Olympic qualification, the U.S. has long had to earn its Olympic berths at the continental Olympic qualification tournaments typically held a few months before the Games.
The U.S. men have fared significantly better at the Olympics, with three gold medals and one bronze. They last won gold at the Beijing 2008 Games, before a disappointing fifth-place finish four years later in London after a quarterfinal loss to Italy. But at this year’s World Cup, the U.S. came out on top, with Italy finishing second and Poland third.
2012 Olympian Matt Anderson was named tournament MVP, while teammates Erik Shoji and Micah Christenson took the titles of Best Libero and Best Setter.
Team USA has been back on the rise the past two years. In 2014, the men earned their first FIVB World League title since 2008 and followed that up with a third-place finish in 2015. Unlike World League, which is held annually across several weeks and seeds teams, the World Cup is a 12-team round-robin tournament that takes place over the course of two weeks. Team USA finished with a 10-1 record in Japan.
Earlier this month, the U.S. women finished third at their World Cup. The team will have its next opportunity to qualify for Rio at the NORCECA Continental Olympic Qualification Tournament in May.
The U.S. Olympic volleyball teams will be named by June 24, 2016.