Lausanne, Switzerland, October 11, 2014 – It is a landmark moment for volleyball, which heads into the penultimate day of competition at the FIVB Women’s World Championship in Milan, with Saturday marking half a century since the sport made its debut appearance at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
For Japan, the 1964 Games were billed as a ‘Festival of Peace’ following the devastating war the country had experienced 20 years earlier. For volleyball, it was the start of a journey which has seen the sport go from strength to strength in the 50 years since.
With the eyes of the world currently on the Women’s World Championship, it is ironic that women’s volleyball faced an uncertain future in the lead up to the 1964 Olympics.
Volleyball was included on the list of sports featured on the Olympic Programme at the 54th IOC session in 1957 in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia. At the 59th IOC Session held in Athens in 1961, a vote was taken to retain volleyball on the programme of the Games of the XVIII Olympiad in Tokyo. However, the International Volleyball Federation’s proposal to include women’s volleyball was rejected and it was only at the 60th IOC Session held in Moscow in 1962 that it was decided that women’s volleyball would also feature at the Games in Tokyo.
Volleyball also made history by being the first women’s team sport to be introduced into the Olympic Games. The women's tournament has featured in Olympic tournaments since, also helping the 24-team Women's World Championship, currently taking place in Italy, to the prominent position it enjoys today.
With Tokyo and Japan as hosts, there was already strong interest in the sport and in the 1964 women’s tournament. Hirofumi Daimatsu’s teams duly sent the home fans into raptures by winning gold, ahead of the USSR and Poland.
USSR’s men confirmed their dominance from the first two FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championships by winning gold. They edged out Czechoslovakia on points difference, while Japan won bronze.
USSR and Japan dominated the early years of the women’s competition, and while China won at Los Angeles 1984, the USSR claimed one more title at Seoul 1988 before the break-up of the old Eastern Bloc ushered in the age of Cuba, who won a hattrick of titles at Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000.
Theirs is a feat that Brazil will aim to match at Rio de Janeiro 2016, having struck gold at Beijing 2008 and London 2012.
The USSR’s men matched their women’s dominance in the early editions of the volleyball tournament at the Olympics. They successfully defended their Tokyo 1964 title at Mexico City 1968 and while Japan and Poland were victorious in the next two Olympics, the USSR returned to winning ways at Moscow 1980.
That was their last Olympic victory though, as the USA won back-to-back golds in 1984 and 1988, before Brazil’s men won the first of their two golds at Barcelona 1992. The South Americans then won a second at Athens 2004, before the USA matched the achievement of the USSR by winning a third gold at Beijing 2008.
The London 2012 Olympic Games, in which Brazil’s women and Russia’s men won gold, was the 13th edition of the Games to feature volleyball. With Brazil’s women out to defend their Olympic gold and their men out to improve on London 2012 and 2014 World Championship silver medals when the Rio de Janeiro 2014 Olympic Games begin, volleyball is guaranteed to have another rich chapter written in its Olympic history.
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