Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 2, 2016 - At minus four days and with 12 men's and 12 women's teams on the starting line the volleyball tournaments of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games are nicely coming together as the finishing touches are being put in place ahead of the first day of action at the Maracanazinho on 6 August.
Rio 2016 Olympic Games - Volleyball
Rio 2016 Olympic Games - Schedule
Rio 2016 Olympic Games - Teams - Men
Rio 2016 Olympic Games - Teams - Women
Volleyball at the Olympics - History
Only two women’s volleyball teams have so far turned home advantage into Olympic victory. Hosts Japan triumphed in 1964 in their capital Tokyo, the first time volleyball was part of the Olympics, followed by the Soviet Union’s win in Moscow in 1980.
Watch Japan claim the first ever volleyball Olympic gold medal, at Tokyo 1964.
Volleyball has developed spectacularly since these early years, and Rio will mark a high point for the sport. FIVB President Dr. Ary S. Graca F° says; "Both volleyball and beach volleyball have experienced unprecedented worldwide growth over the past few years and we look forward to showcasing the sport's innovative developments this summer in what I am confident will be the greatest celebration of our sport in Olympic history."
The field of participants contains some top-quality teams and apart from Cuba, all the previous Olympic champions in women’s volleyball are represented in Rio: Russia, as the successor state of record Olympic champions the Soviet Union (1968, 1972, 1980 and 1988), Japan (1964, 1976), China (1984, 2004) and Brazil (2008, 2012).
Alongside the hosts, China are also considered favourites after their FIVB World Cup triumph in 2015. Coach "Jenny" Lang Ping who led China to Olympic victory in 1984 with her much-feared play from the outside hitter position – earning her the nickname "Iron Hammer" – would love to repeat the feat as coach. She came very close to fulfilling that dream at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing when she coached the US national team to silver.
The current US team – featuring stars such as Jordan Larson-Burbach and captain Christa Harmotto Dietzen – were crowned world champions in 2014 and are among the favourites for Rio. The US women’s team has yet to win Olympic gold but they have an experienced man on the sidelines who has achieved that feat three times. "King" Karch Kiraly is a true volleyball legend, having won Olympic volleyball gold in 1984 and 1988 with the US team and the first gold in beach volleyball when it debuted at the 1996 Olympics.
This is the 14th occasion that volleyball has featured at the Olympics, and the US women’s team is participating for the 11th time. The record number of appearances is held by Russia (13 times including the record of predecessor states the Soviet Union and the Unified Team of 1992), followed by Japan (12 times) Italy (11 times) and Brazil (10 times).
The US won gold in 1984 and 1988 with a team of stars including Karch Kiraly, who will lead the US women’s team here at Rio 2016. The gold medal has changed hands every four years since then going to Brazil (1992), Netherlands (1996), Yugoslavia (2000), Brazil (2004), USA (2008) and Russia (2012).
It is a sign of the quality of action and pure drama that fans can expect during the clash of the volleyball titans – a fine literal description of this year’s showdown.
Russia are led by 40-year-old captain Sergey Tetyukhin, who could win his fifth Olympic medal in Rio. Together with Italian Samuele Papi, he is one of only two male volleyball players who have accumulated four Olympic medals in the course of their long sporting careers.
The long list of title contenders is led by Brazil, who have had to settle for silver in 2008 and 2012, having last won the Olympics in 2004. Coach Bernardo Rezende's team is obviously out to change all that in front of their home crowd. The stars in the team include 40-year-old libero Serginho, as well as the coach's son and setter Bruno Rezende, and Wallace de Souza.
Other contenders include, 2015 FIVB World Cup winners USA, 2014 FIVB World Champions Poland, and current European champions France.
The tournament promises to be a great platform for volleyball. "Rio 2016 is a huge opportunity for the FIVB to showcase volleyball to the world in a way they have not seen it before. We want to further develop the sport and introduce it to new audiences, encouraging and inspiring people in Brazil and all over the world to join the volleyball party and take up the sport," Dr. Graca said.
Of the seven countries to have won men's gold so far since the inclusion of the sport in the Olympic Programme at Tokyo 1964, four are present in Rio. Russia (1964, 1968, 1980 and 2012), USA (1984, 1988 and 2008), Brazil (1992 and 2004) and Poland (1976).
The only country to have played at all the Olympic Games since 1964 is Brazil. The Brazilians are bidding to become the third country to win Olympic gold on home soil, following the Soviet Union (1980 Moscow) and USA (1984 Los Angeles).
In each of the men's and women's tournaments the top four of each pool qualify to the quarterfinals, which mark the start of the knockout stage - followed by semifinals and the medals matches.
Women's pool play, featuring six matches each day at the iconic Maracanazinho, starts Saturday at 09:30 with the men beginning on Sunday.