The OG are about to start and I remember the very 1st volleyball tournament I watched, the Atlanta OG in 1996.
At that time, Cuba was the team to beat and I didn't have any hope of a medal until Brazil beat them in straight sets in the preliminary round. I even remember the scores (15-11, 15-10, 15-04)
After that match we also beat Russia in straight sets (15-03, 15-11, 15-13) and Brazil's team was guaranteed as the 1st team in their pool. Unfortunately we were not able to beat the Cuban team twice and eventually lost the semifinal match in the tie-breaker (15-05, 08-15, 15-10, 13-15, 12-15) and had to play for bronze medal against Russia. The match was decided in the tie-breaker and Brazil's team eventually won (15-13, 08-15, 16-14, 04-15, 15-13).
The Cuban team didn't start well in that tournament, they lost both to Brazil and Russia in the preliminary round and finished third in their pool. On the other pool, China finished first and it was a surprise for me that they beat Russia in the other semifinal. The match China vs Cuba decided the Gold but it was not as thrilling as the 5-set semifinal between Cuba and Brazil. It was really hard to accept that defeat, but the Cuban team was just great, more talented, more experienced, and could cope much better than Brazil with high balls.
Four years later, in Sydney, another OG took place. At that time Cuba and Russia were by far the best teams in the world and I remember it was Gamova's first OG. If I am not mistaken, she was playing as a middle-blocker that OG, Russian OHs were Godina, Sokolova and Artamonova and they used to have two good setters Tatiana Gratcheva and Elena Vassilevskaia. That OG the USA team were a surprise, they beat China in the preliminary round and the QF match against Korea was really tough, it was decided in the tie-breaker. I remember Kerry Walsh was one of the US team OHs, and they caused lots of troubles to Russia in the semifinal match. The Russian team had to play 5 sets to advance for the final match. In fact, both semifinals were decided in the 5th set. I remember Brazil and Cuba played another thrilling match. Brazil won the 1st set and was leading the second set 16-09, but then Cuba came back and won the set 25-19, then Brazil took the third set but after that the match was completely dominated by Cuba. I remember Leila played superbly in that match and her fighting spirit was something which really drew my attention at that time. Again Cuba beat Brazil and eventually were Champions after defeating Russia in a great come back, if I'm not mistaken the score of the final match was 3-2 for Cuba and the sets were 30-32, 26-28, 25-19, 25-18, 15-07.
WIth the arrival of the new century the volleyball scene changed a lot. The Cuban team was dismantled after its main players abandoned the team in an international tournament in 2001. The Cuban hegemony was over and two teams started to impress, first China and USA in the 2001 World Grand Prix and then Italy, in the 2002 World Championship. Russia suffered a little with the absence of Sokolova, which only joined the team in 2004 if I'm not mistaken. Brazil's team was struggling a lot and in 2002 its main players boycotted the team's head coach and only returned for the 2003 World Cup. The Athens OG were very balanced, and even after a forced renovation, the Cuban team came back strong. They have beaten China and Russia in the preliminary round, and almost beat China in the semifinal match, which was only decided in the tie-breaker. They won the Bronze Medal after beating Brazil in four sets.
Russia and Brazil played a real battle in the semifinals, Brazil's team started really strong against Russia and gave the impression they would beat Russia in straight sets after being down 10-16, and then 17-21 in the second set. Amazingly they scored 8 points in a row and took the second set 25-21. The Russian team recovered in the match and played better the decisive points of all the other sets to win the match. They took the following sets 25-22, 28-26 and 16-14 to qualify for the Golden Medal Match. The 24-19 story is still in Brazil's NT fans memory and it hurt really bad.
The final match was also great, Russia and China fought for every single point and the Olympic Champions was known only after five sets. After winning the first two sets 32-30 and 27-25, the Russian team was outplayed by China in the following three sets 20-25, 23-25 and 12-15. The Chinese team really deserved the OG title, for being the most regular team in the 2001-2004 Olympic Cycle. Their combination of strong and tall players with a terrific setter which made their game quick made them a difficult team to beat and that was how they play to win their second Gold Medal at the OG.
The 2008 OG was a one-team competition. Brazil's team was by far the best team in the world at that time and it was hard to beat them. Brazil's girls reached the final match without losing a single set and they eventually beat the US team in the final match in a 4-set match. Apart from that, the Beijing OG was full of surprises, especially in Pool A. Everybody was predicting the death group would be Pool B but three out of the 4 best teams of the tournament were in Pool A. I also remember great matches in the Beijing OG. In the preliminary round China vs. Cuba, China vs. USA, Poland vs. USA and Poland vs. Japan were amazing matches. And then the most thrilling match of the tournament: Italy vs. USA in the QFs.
Now the London OG will take place, for me the US team are the team to beat. I heard people saying Berg suffered some injury which will make the US team Gold Medal quest more dramatic, but even so they are the favorites for winning the Gold Medal. Other teams have their own dramas, like Serbia, Russia, Italy, Brazil and Turkey. All of them will try to overcome their limits for the Golden Medal and I am pretty sure no matter who wins it, what will stay in our memories will be each battle, each fight and each drama every teams and players will have to face in order to become champions.
I am getting anxious already! I barely can wait for the beginning of the Women's Volleyball Tournament of the London OG.