Friday, August 22, 2008

US Olympic Volleyball in 2008

When I was in college and at the height of my volleyball prowess, I was able to go up to Ohio State and watch their NCAA men’s team play what turned out to be a very exciting and impressive match against Lewis University. What was interesting to me was that the bulk of the Lewis roster was foreign. Most of them, at least the starters, were from either Latin America or South America. Paul, my friend, teammate, and co-fan on this particular adventure was telling me that as far as volleyball goes globally, the US as a whole is just behind. It made sense at the time. And to watch the foreign players, there was something intangible about them that made them better.

Now flash forward 5 years. Ultimately, the popularity of volleyball in the US is still not what it is in other parts of the world. How can you tell? Riddle me this; when’s the last time you saw a pro club volleyball team face off against a conference rival? In Europe and Russia in particular, volleyball has reached epic heights of popularity, such that the top players make NFL-like salaries. Lloy Ball and Clay Stanley, both Americans playing in Russia, have made comments that they top-paid player in their league makes the Russian equivalent of about $3 million a year. And with the failing dollar, inflation, a bad dow… sorry, got off track there.

Now the time has come to reclaim the overbearing, overwhelming, and over competitive nature of American gamesmanship. The last time the Americans even sniffed a medal round was in Seoul, South Korea in 1988. Granted they took the gold, but then got thumped in Sydney in 2000, and again in Athens in 2004. This year though, the US is poised to collect every single gold medal there is across 4 different volleyball venues.

This week, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh ousted the top seeded Chinese team to win their second consecutive gold medals in beach volleyball. Last night, or maybe this morning depending on what side of the world you live on, Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rodgers beat Brazil in 3 exciting sets to capture their first gold medals, also in beach volleyball. And this weekend, both the men’s and women’s indoor teams will play in gold medal matches, guaranteeing at least a silver.

Congratulations to all of them. And let any skeptics take notice that the US is not a second-tier talent on the courts any longer.

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