The U.S. men have won the Olympic volleyball gold medal for the first time in 20 years, beating Brazil three sets to one. VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer was at Sunday's match at Beijing's Capital Gymnasium and has a report.
This match between top-ranked and defending champion Brazil and the United States really was in doubt until Clay Stanley smashed the spike that gave the Americans a slim 25-23 win in the fourth set and the gold medal
Brazil had won the opening set 25-20, then team USA battled back to win the next two sets by close scores of 25-22 and 25-21. The Brazilians never trailed in the fourth set until they hit the ball into the netting, breaking a 20-20 tie and giving the Americans the lead they never relinquished. Stanley provided the most power for Team USA, with 15 successful spikes.
Captain Tom Hoff said the victory is the result of a lot of hard work by the players and their coach Hugh McCutcheon over the last four years after a fourth place finish at the Athens Olympics.
"There were at times behind closed doors and even at practice when we were trying to develop a game that Hugh and the staff believed that would some day turn us into Olympic champions," Hoff said. "And obviously this is the culmination of it. But it's all the days behind closed doors and all the work you really put in that no one else besides the team and staff."
Brazilian coach Bernardo Rezende had nothing but praise for the U.S. winners.
"I think they did a great job," Rezende said. "They deserved the victory. I'm glad a great group of people won the gold medal, so, great persons and great professionals, so I think the gold is in good hands. We fought, we tried hard. They were better. They deserved it, and we must learn from those who beat us and try to be stronger the next time."
The man who undoubtedly had to be the strongest in this volleyball tournament was U.S. coach Hugh McCutcheon. His wife's father, Todd Bachman, was murdered in a random stabbing at a Beijing tourist site the day before competition began. McCutheon left to be with family members and missed the team's first three matches.
He acknowledged that Sunday's gold medal victory is bittersweet.
"On one hand I mourn the loss of my father-in-law greatly, and my heart aches for my wife and for our family for the loss," McCutcheon said. "And on the other hand, of course, I am extremely proud and happy for my team and for USA Volleyball as an organization and for the thing that we've been able to achieve."
The U.S. men came through with their gold medal, one day after the American women lost their gold volleyball match to Brazil (3-1).