USA Wins Gold in Women’s Volleyball at Olympics

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TOKYO – Every journey Olympic The mountain comes with a series of events that, in retrospect, seem meticulously designed, but are actually just rolling the dice.

Take the United States women’s volleyball team. It first qualified for the Olympic tournament in 1980, but missed those Games due to an American-led boycott. He has been pursuing an Olympic title ever since.

Despite college backgrounds that showcased their volleyball skills on an assembly line, U.S. women had never won a gold medal. They came close twice, winning silver at the 2008 Beijing and again the 2012 London Games, and bronze at Rio in 2016, and finally beat Brazil 3-0 in Tokyo on Sunday to reach the top spot.

The turning point in the current team’s success is likely rooted in two coaching decisions made more than a decade ago.

After the 2008 Olympics, Hugh McCutcheon quit coaching the USA men’s team after winning the gold medal and agreed to take over the women’s program.

This created an opening on the men’s side. One of the candidates for the job was Karch Kiraly, America’s first real volleyball star. As a player, Kiraly led UCLA to national championships and was the heartthrob of team USA gold in 1984. Later, she helped popularize professional beach volleyball and also became a champion.

It would be perfectly understandable if Kiraly had felt that her fame had given her the right to a man’s job. He didn’t. She said she actually felt inadequate and told the leaders of US volleyball the same.

A few weeks later, he sat next to McCutcheon on a plane. McCutcheon had an idea. “Come, be my assistant on the ladies’ team,” he told Kiraly. Gain some experience and take over when I’m gone.

And that’s exactly what Kiraly did.

“I can’t imagine coaching any other team,” Kiraly said earlier this week as the United States evaporated into Sunday’s gold medal game. “I love them to death.”

As a UCLA graduate, Kiraly is very knowledgeable about the teachings of the university’s legendary basketball coach, John Wooden, and the idea of ​​Wooden, where paying for a team gives you the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than yourself.

His assistant coach, Marv Dunphy, is also very familiar with Wooden’s methods; He interviewed the coach for hours before his death in 2010. He exemplifies the methods he and Kiraly have learned: flexibility in the service of stability; act fast but also take your time; willingness to enjoy small gestures and acknowledgment that athletes are human, not robots.

When Kiraly talked about it at the Games, she barely mentioned her team’s talent and athleticism. Instead, she proudly spoke of the atmosphere of “trust, accountability and democracy” that women create for themselves.

Foluke Akinradewo, a veteran mid-blocker, said the team made a conscious decision to express their feelings about the tension inherent in the search for gold in recent months rather than running away from it.

“We allow ourselves to say ‘I’m nervous’ to each other,” said Akinradewo after the Americans won the Dominican Republic in the quarterfinals. “We say we’re nervous and then we go after it.”

The team’s rush to the Tokyo 2020 final began long before summer. In the spring, the United States brought its best players to the Volleyball Nations League in Italy, which is held annually among the top volleyball-playing nations.

Several countries have chosen to rest their best players this year; Kiraly used this as a test of sorts, bringing in 18 players and then expanding her roster to the top 12, where she took it to Tokyo. The United States won the competition and hasn’t given up since.

In the run-up to the gold medal game, the team lost plenty of points, seven sets and even a game, 3-0 drubbing by Russia’s team. And they rolled with it all.

On Sunday, however, they finished their journey to their first gold, beating Brazil (25-21, 25-20, 25-14), who had beaten them in the finals in 2008 and 2012. Andrea Drews added 15 points and Michelle Bartsch-Hackley added 14.

Serbia won the bronze medal.

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