Originally called “mintonette” by its inventor, William G. Morgan, volleyball was designed in Holyoke, Mass., just before the turn of the 20th century by taking characteristics from tennis and handball. It was meant to be less exerting than another sport emerging from nearby Springfield – basketball – yet still requiring physical effort. Volleyball became mainstream enough to be introduced as a demonstration event at the 1924 Paris Games, and picked up further momentum with the creation of governing body FIVB more than two decades later. In 1964, the sport finally made its Olympic debut, and has been a mainstay on the program ever since.
Team USA won gold four years ago in Beijing and welcomes back five players: Clay Stanley and Reid Priddy will be playing in their third Olympics . Both were starters on the 2008 team, with Stanley being named the Beijing MVP. Also returning from that squad team are libero Rich Lambourne, middle blocker David Lee and outside hitter Sean Rooney.
The top newcomer is Matt Anderson. The 25-year-old is a first-time Olympian who shoulders a large part of the offense for the U.S. team. The 6-foot-10 outside hitter has made tremendous progress over the last two years to become one of the best attackers in the world and is capable of scoring runs of points with the strength of his jump serve.
The U.S. men’s team enters the London Olympics ranked fifth in the world. After struggling through the quad and finishing no higher than fifth in major international competition, the U.S. coaching staff settled on a lineup that seems to be finding its stride just in time to make a run at the medal round. The Americans men beat No. 4 Cuba en route to earning the NORCECA (North, Central America and the Caribbean) continental Olympic berth, and they grabbed a silver medal at the 2012 World League, their best finish since winning the 2008 event. Their chances of getting back on the podium look better than they did a year ago.
The team’s strengths include a strong block and several effective offensive weapons that allow them to compete with the best in the world when they are playing well. The question for the Americans is ball control and consistency as they are prone to passing breakdowns. If they are able to harness the flashes of brilliance they’ve shown intermittently over the last three months, they will be a serious contender.
Hugh McCutcheon, who coached the 2008 team, is now coaching the US women. Longtime Long Beach State University coach Alan Knipe took over.
Brazil is No. 1 in the world, but enters the Olympics having performed below its standard at the last international tournament, missing the medal round at world league for the first time since 1998. They’ll be looking to rebound in London and will take on No. 2 Russia in pool play on July 31. Also watch out for the gold medal rematch between Brazil and U.S. on Aug. 2nd.
Gold Medal Odds