Rio 2016

U.S. Olympic Men's Volleyball History

2012 | 2008 | 2004 | 2000 | 1996 | 1992 | 1988 | 1984 | 1980 | 1976 | 1972 | 1968 | 1964

London, 2012
Finish: 5th
Record: 4-2 (4-1 pool play, 0-1 finals)
Team: Matt Anderson, Sean Rooney, David Lee, Rich Lambourne, Paul Lotman, Donald Suxho, Reid Priddy, Brian Thornton, Russell Holmes, Clay Stanley, David McKienzie, David Smith. Head Coach Alan Knipe.

The U.S. Men's Volleyball Team went into the 2012 Olympic Games as the defending gold medalist. Unfortunately, the team could not repeat its Beijing success.

The United States opened pool play on July 29 at the Earls Court venue with sweeps of Serbia (25-16, 25-22, 25-21) and Germany (25-23, 25-16, 25-20), which gave it good momentum going up against top-seeded Brazil in a rematch of the 2008 gold medal contest. The U.S. defeated Brazil, 23-25, 27-25, 25-19, 25-17.

Against No. 2-seeded Russia, the U.S. won the first two sets (29-27, 25-19) and held match point in the third. But Russia fought off the match loss twice, going on to win the third set and the fourth and fifth as well (26-24, 25-16, 15-8).

The U.S. Men shook off the loss with a sweep of Tunisia (25-15, 25-19, 25-19), winning Pool B and advancing to the quarterfinals.

The United States faced No. 3 seeded Italy, which had finished fourth in Pool A. The U.S. Men played a lackluster match and fell, 28-26, 25-20, 25-20, ending their Olympic journey.

Beijing, 2008
Finish: Gold
Record: 8-0 (5-0 pool play, 3-0 finals)
Team: Lloy Ball, Sean Rooney, David Lee, Rich Lambourne, Reid Priddy, Ryan Millar, Riley Salmon, Tom Hoff, Clay Stanley, Kevin Hansen, Gabe Gardner, Scott Touzinsky. Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon.

The volleyball competition in Beijing was preceded by a tragedy when Todd Bachman, the father-in-law of U.S. men's head coach Hugh McCutcheon, died from wounds suffered in a knife attack at a Beijing tourist site. McCutcheon missed the U.S.'s first three Olympic matches to be with his family.

McCutcheon has always made it clear that there shouldn't be a connection between the tragic event and the success the U.S. men's team had on the volleyball court.

"Some people would say that what happened off the court brought the team together, but to me that does them a huge disservice," McCutcheon says. "We didn't come out of nowhere. We had won FIVB World League three weeks before and beaten Brazil four of the last five times we played them. It was clear we were among the best teams in the world. It was never a case where the team wasn't very good and then all of a sudden we became world beaters."

The U.S. went 8-0 in Beijing, winning all five pool-play matches and then running the table in the final round with a 3-2 win over Serbia in the quarterfinal, a 3-2 win over Russia in the semifinal and a 3-1 victory over Brazil in the gold-medal match.

Clay Stanley, a 6-9 opposite from Honolulu, earned MVP honors as well as "Best Scorer" and "Best Server' by being a dominant force throughout the tournament. "He was so terminal – serving and hitting and blocking and digging balls," McCutcheon says. "He was everywhere."

Especially notable, too, were outside hitters Reid Priddy and Riley Salmon and setter Lloy Ball, who finished his Olympic career on a high note after non-medal finishes in three previous Games.

"I thought the key to our series of victories was about us being a team," said McCutcheon. "We really believed that was our strength, and it showed in how we had lots of different ways we could attack opponents and how the guys played so unselfishly."

Athens, 2004
Finish: 4th
Record: 4-4 (3-2 pool play, 1-2 medal round)
Team: Lloy Ball, Erik Sullivan, Phil Eatherton, Donald Suxho, Reid Priddy, Ryan Millar, Riley Salmon, Brook Billings, Tom Hoff, Clay Stanley, Kevin Barnett, Gabe Gardner. Head Coach Doug Beal.

Athens was a big step in the right direction for the U.S. men's program, after finishing ninth in Atlanta and 11th in Sydney.

The U.S. advanced out of pool play with victories over Netherlands, Australia and Brazil, then recorded the highlight of the tournament against Greece in the quarterfinal. Facing elimination and down 2-1 in sets and 20-12 in the fourth game, they came back to win the fourth game 25-23 and took the match with a 17-15 win in the fifth – that after they were down 12-9.

"We did the impossible tonight," said middle blocker Ryan Millar.

A key to the win was backup setter Donald Suxho, who was sent in by head coach Doug Beal early in the fourth game to change the momentum. He did just that – "We kind of ran out of gas a little bit in the fourth, and he was the spark for us," libero Erik Sullivan said – and the U.S. was on to the semis.

The magic ran out in the next two matches. A talented Brazil team beat them 3-0 in the semis, and Russia beat them 3-0 in the bronze-medal match.

All in all, considering how many great teams there were in the field, Beal was mostly satisfied.

"I think we had a possibility to win a medal in Athens, but it would have been a stretch for that team," he said. "Frankly, I'm not sure that team was more talented than the team that played so poorly in Sydney, but we were a lot healthier, we were a better serving team and our outsides played more consistently."

Sydney, 2000
Finish: 11th
Record: 0-5
Team: Lloy Ball, Kevin Barnett, Thomas Hoff, John Hyden, Mike Lambert, Dan Landry, Chip McCaw, Ryan Millar, Jeff Nygaard, George Roumain, Erik Sullivan and Andy Witt. Head Coach Doug Beal.

In some ways, this team was done when its plane landed in Sydney. The list of ailments was long, from setter Lloy Ball's knee problem to middle blocker Tom Hoff returning from back surgery and then pulling an abdominal muscle. Middle blocker Jeff Nygaard sat out the entire Olympics with mono, and another key player, outside hitter Kevin Barnett, hadn’t fully recovered from an injury he’d suffered earlier in the summer.

What it all added up to wasn’t pretty. Five pool-play matches, five losses. To recap: The U.S. was defeated by Argentina (in four sets), then by Russia (in four), then by Yugoslavia (in three), then by Korea (in five) and, finally, by Italy (in four).

Atlanta, 1996
Finish: 9th
Record: 2-3
Team: Lloy Ball, Bob Ctvrtlik, Scott Fortune, John Hyden, Bryan Ivie, Mike Lambert, Dan Landry, Jeff Nygaard, Tom Sorensen, Jeff Stork, Ethan Watts and Brett Winslow. Head Coach Fred Sturm.

The U.S. men's team in Atlanta featured a lot of new faces and undersized outside hitters, but two years earlier, it had proved capable of overachieving when it won a bronze medal at the FIVB World Championship in Greece.

As expected, the U.S. Men defeated Poland and Argentina to open pool play, both three-set sweeps. In the third match, they lost a grueling match against Cuba – 18-16 in the fifth – and U.S. coach Fred Sturm expressed concern afterward that the loss could be crucial in the team's quest to push through to the medal round. Turns out, he was right. The U.S. men lost the next two pool-play matches – in three to Brazil, in five to Bulgaria – and didn't advance.

For a team that had grown accustomed to winning medals at the Olympics, it was a big setback.

Ctvrtlik, who had returned two years earlier and taken a firm and vocal leadership role, shared his thoughts shortly after the U.S. was eliminated, saying: "This is about as painful (a result) as you can have. Usually, I can find a bright spot in something. But I'm hoping the sun comes up tomorrow."

Barcelona, 1992
Finish: Bronze
Record: 6-2 (4-1 pool play, 2-1 medal round)
Team: Nick Becker, Carlos Briceno, Bob Ctvrtlik, Scott Fortune, Dan Greenbaum, Brent Hilliard, Bryan Ivie, Doug Partie, Bob Samuelson, Eric Sato, Jeff Stork, Steve Timmons. Head Coach Fred Sturm.

Three-peat wasn't to be. The U.S. had carried on without star Karch Kiraly who had moved on from indoor to concentrate on conquering the beach, which he did – for most of the 1990s. The team in Barcelona did return four starters from the 1988 gold-medal winning squad: Jeff Stork, Bob Ctvrtlik, Doug Partie and Steve Timmons.

Controversy bubbled up after the first match in Barcelona, which the U.S. won on the court in five games over Japan, but lost when the FIVB ruled to reverse the outcome because of a supposedly overlooked infraction – a second yellow card that had been given to middle blocker Bob Samuelson with Japan leading 2-1 in sets and 14-13 in the fourth game, which in those days was a side out game to 15. The ruling was this: the ref should have awarded a penalty point for Samuelson’s second yellow card and, thus, Japan would have won the match. Not surprisingly, U.S. players disagreed – Samuelson said he was never shown the yellow card – and decided to wage a collective protest by shaving their heads, an action that altered the name of the sport to "Volleybald" for the remainder of the Games.

The shorn U.S. men were strong through the rest of pool play, winning four consecutive matches, and they advanced to the semifinals with a four-set victory in the quarterfinals over Russia, then known as the Unified Team. But in the semis, a hot Brazil team – that would go on to win the gold – took the Americans down in four sets, ending Timmons' quest to become a three-time gold medalist. The U.S. earned the bronze with a four-set victory over Cuba.

Seoul, 1988
Finish: Gold
Record: 7-0 (5-0 pool play, 2-0 medal round)
Team: Craig Buck, Bob Ctvrtlik, Scott Fortune, Karch Kiraly, Ricci Luyties, Doug Partie, Jon Root, Eric Sato, Dave Saunders, Jeff Stork, Steve Timmons, Troy Tanner. Head coach Marv Dunphy.

Many of the players on the 1988 team will tell you that the very best U.S. men's team of that era was not the 1984 Olympic gold-medal team or the 1988 Olympic gold-medal team, but rather the 1986 team, which had more collective experience and outside hitter Bob Ctvrtlik. By 1988, the starting lineup was newer. Karch Kiraly, Steve Timmons and Craig Buck were still there, but terminating opposite Pat Powers was gone, as was Dusty Dvorak. So Timmons moved to opposite, and UCLA All American Doug Partie took over the other middle blocker spot next to Buck. At setter was Pepperdine grad Jeff Stork, and Ctvrtlik started alongside Kiraly at outside hitter.

The results, of course, were still fabulous. The U.S. went 5-0 in pool play, fending off a scare from a hot Argentina team that jumped out to a two-set lead before the Americans came back to win in five. In the semis, they crushed Brazil in the three sets, and they took care of the Soviets in four sets in the gold-medal match. It was a grand finale to an incredible run of success in the 1980s that saw the team win the volleyball Triple Crown – gold medals at the 1985 FIVB World Cup, 1986 FIVB World Championship and 1988 Olympics – and it matched the Soviet record of consecutive Olympic gold medals.

Kiraly, the team captain, was the Olympic MVP, and Timmons had also come up huge with his terminating attacks from both the front and back row. A less heralded hero was 5-11 defensive specialist Eric Sato, whose blistering jump serves accounted for numerous key points.

One of the great sources of pride for Kiraly about the 1988 gold was the fact that, in a full-field tournament, the team was able to deliver under the pressure of great expectations. "Winning is one thing – staying on top after winning is another," he wrote in "The Sand Man," his autobiography. "It's much harder... The pressure you face as a favorite, including the pressure you put on yourself, is the ultimate test for an athlete. And the one of which I am most proud."

Los Angeles, 1984
Finish: Gold
Record: 5-1 (3-1 pool play, 2-0 medal round)
Team: Dusty Dvorak, Dave Saunders, Steve Salmons, Paul Sunderland, Rich Duwelius, Steve Timmons, Craig Buck, Marc Waldie, Chris Marlowe, Aldis Berzins, Pat Powers, Karch Kiraly. Head Coach Doug Beal.

The U.S. men's team that won a gold medal in 1984 kicked off the greatest run in U.S. indoor volleyball history. But just two years earlier, the team was still a work in progress. In fact, the U.S. finished 13th at the 1982 FIVB World Championship, albeit with much different personnel. Under the direction of head coach Doug Beal, the years leading up to the 1984 Games were filled with experimentation.

"We were like lab animals," starting outside hitter Aldis Berzins once said.

The result was a two-passer system that shaped how all international teams played for nearly a decade. With Berzins and Karch Kiraly handling serve-receive, the new system emphasized specialization, which allowed players to make the best use of their signature skills. It also helped launch the frequent use of a powerful back-row attack, a weapon that Steve Timmons and Pat Powers used to punish opponents. Add the monster blocking of 6-8 Craig Buck and the sweet sets of Dusty Dvorak, and the team was on its way to becoming a world power.

Prior to the L.A. Games, the U.S. unleashed a 27-match winning streak that included a four-match sweep of the Russians in the Ukraine just before the Olympics. These were the first wins by the American men over the Russians since the 1968 Olympics, and it made it that much more disappointing to the players and coaches when the Russians boycotted the 1984 Games. But their run in Los Angeles was convincing, punctuated by a dominating 3-0 victory in the gold-medal match over Brazil. The dynasty had begun.

Moscow, 1980
Finish: Did not qualify

Montreal, 1976
Finish: Did not qualify

Munich, 1972
Finish: Did not qualify

Mexico City, 1968
Finish: 7th
Record: 4-5
Team: John Alstrom, Mike Bright, Wink Davenport, Smitty Duke, Tom Haine, Jack Henn, Butch May, Danny Patterson, Larry Rundle, Jon Stanley, Rudy Suwara, Pedro Velasco. Head Coach Jim Coleman.

Preparation for the 1968 Games was a bit more extensive than it had been in 1964 – the team trained in California at Lake Tahoe for six weeks – and it led to one very significant highlight: a stunning upset of the Soviet Union. The Soviets were up in sets 2-1, but the U.S. came back and won going away in the fifth, 15-6. As the points ticked away in favor of the Americans, U.S. setter Jack Henn recalls a look of astonishment on the faces of the Soviet players. "You could see in their eyes that they were thinking, 'Is this really happening?'" he said. "You knew if they didn’t come back and win the gold, they were going to be sent to Siberia."

The Soviets did come back and take the gold, winning their remaining eight matches. The U.S., meanwhile, wasn't able to lift its game to the same height the rest of the way. It didn't help when one key player, Larry Rundle, sprained his ankle. It also didn't help that most of the players were hit with bad cases of Montezuma’s revenge at some point in the tournament.

Tokyo, 1964
Finish: 9th
Record: 2-7
Team: Mike Bright, Barry Brown, Keith Erickson, Bill Griebenow, Richard Hammer, Jake Highland, Ron Lang, Chuck Nelson, Mike O’Hara, Ernie Suwara, John Taylor and Pedro Velasco. Head Coach Harry Wilson.

Volleyball made its Olympic debut in Tokyo in 1964, and the U.S. was among the 10 countries that participated in the men's field. But it was a rough go, and the first stumble came before the team even boarded the plane. Gene Selznick, who many thought was the country's top player, was selected only as an alternate, a slight that shocked and disappointing many players who were chosen. The short version of what happened: The coach, Harry Wilson, didn’t like Selznick and Selznick didn’t think Wilson was much of a coach.

By all accounts, Wilson wasn't much of a coach, and Selznick, who wasn't known as the easiest guy to get along with, rarely missed an opportunity to let Wilson know what he was doing wrong. The fact that Selznick was right most of the time apparently mattered little when it came time to finalize the roster.

"It was politics pure and simple," recalled one player, Ron Lang, years later. "But basically if you wanted to go to the Olympics, you shut up and went." Go they did, but the results weren’t good. Penalized frequently for using overhand passes that they were accustomed to in U.S. competitions but that weren't allowed internationally, they won just two matches and finished ninth. It was evidence enough that changes to the program were needed. Teams from some countries had been together for years. The U.S. trained for two weeks.

The original versions of these recaps, written by Don Patterson, first appeared in VolleyballUSA magazine, except the 2012 recap.