Lausanne, Switzerland, July 21, 2016 - Volleyball has been part of the Olympic movement since 1964, and as the world marks 15 days to go until the Rio 2016 Games, it is time to look back at the great volleyball tournaments of the past.
Recognised by the IOC as an Olympic sport in Sofia, Bulgaria in 1957, volleyball was officially included in the Olympic Games seven years later. In the beginning there were 10 men’s teams participating apart from 1972 in Munich where there were 12 teams and in 1976 in Montreal where Egypt’s withdrawal limited the number of countries to nine. Since Seoul in 1988 there have been 12 teams in the men’s competition.
Mexico City 1968 Olympic Games
The USSR emerged with a double triumph in Mexico. They successfully defended the men’s title they had won in Japan, and added the women’s gold medal this time too.
Munich 1972 Olympic Games
Volleyball entered the Olympic arena for the third time in Munich in 1972, and for the Japanese men it was a case of third time lucky. Following their bronze medal in 1964 they won silver in 1968. Now the question was, could their talismanic coach Yasutaka Matsudaira finally lead them to the very top of the Olympic podium?
The volleyball tournament for the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal was a revelation for the Canadian public. What had been for most an occasional pastime with flexible rules became a passion during the Games.
Prior to 1980 the USSR had only once failed to reach the final of either the women’s or the men’s Olympic volleyball competitions. Indeed between them their teams had lost only five matches in the nascent history of Olympic volleyball. Now, with home advantage and some of their most serious rivals absent because of the political boycott, the stage was set for more Soviet success and the Moscow public was not to be disappointed.
The Soviet Union’s remarkable run of finishing first or second in every Olympic women’s tournament since the start came to an abrupt halt at the 1984 Los Angeles Games owing to the political boycott; but in the absence of Europe’s eastern bloc, China’s women came to the party in a big way.
It could be said that the women’s Olympic volleyball competition of 1988 turned on two fateful moments, the first coming when Africa declined to enter a team, and a qualification tournament for their place was held in Italy. It was won by the three times Olympic champions USSR (East Germany had qualified as European champions).
Barcelona 1992 provided a platform for teams from central and southern America to show their new-found volleyball prowess, with first-time Olympic gold medallists in the shape of Cuba’s women and Brazil’s men.
In 1999 Dutch television viewers were asked to vote for their sporting moment of the century. You would be forgiven for assuming that fans from the country that gave the world “total football” would choose something with a footballing theme. But it was not the case. Instead, they chose the 1996 men’s Olympic volleyball final.
The volleyball competitions of the 2000 Olympic Games, played according to some significant new rules, provided further heartbreak for Italy’s men but a triple crown for Cuba’s women.
At the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, the Chinese women pulled off an astonishing turnaround to beat Russia and win Olympic gold after trailing by two sets.
At the volleyball tournament at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, USA men dethroned 2004 Athens champions Brazil for their first Olympic title in 20 years as their female compatriots surprised many with their own run to the final and but for the world No. 1 Brazilians it would have been a golden sweep for America.
In the men's volleyball final at the London 2012 Olympic Games, Brazil initially set the pace of the game but could not capitalize on two opportunities to seal the deal in straight sets.