U.S. Olympic Volleyball Star Dies in Match : Flo Hyman, 31, Collapses While Competing in Japan

Times Staff Writer

Flo Hyman, perhaps the most recognizable name in international volleyball, collapsed during a match in Japan Friday night and died of heart failure.

A member of the U.S. Olympic team that won a silver medal in the 1984 Games at Long Beach, Hyman, 31, was playing for Daiei, Inc., in a Japanese women’s league match against Hitachi, Ltd., in Matsue City, about 380 miles west of Tokyo.

After being replaced in the third game, she took a seat on the bench, where she collapsed, sportscaster Marty Kuehnert, a personal friend of Hyman’s said by phone late Friday night from Japan.

Japanese television showed Hyman being carried out of the packed 4,500-seat Matsue City gymnasium on a stretcher. She was taken by ambulance to Matsue Red Cross Hospital.

The Associated Press, quoting a hospital staff member, said that Hyman had no measurable pulse on admission. She was placed on a respirator and given external cardiac massage but was pronounced dead at about 9:30 p.m.


Teammate Rita Crockett, who also played with Hyman on the Olympic team, was with Hyman in the emergency room, Kuehnert said. Kuehnert, speaking by phone from Crockett’s apartment in Kobe, said Crockett finished out the match.

“It was the third set, and Flo had just come off the court,” said Kuehnert, who did not attend the match. “She was sitting in the middle of the bench, cheering for her team, and she just keeled over.

“Flo had fainted in the past. Rita was told that Flo had just fainted, so she thought it was OK to continue the match.”

Kuehnert said Crockett was on the team bus after the match when one of the managers, back from the hospital, pulled her off the bus. Said Kuehnert: “Rita asked, ‘Is Flo OK?’ and the manager just started crying and shook his head no.”

Kuehnert said Crockett did not wish to speak to a reporter. “It’s kind of hard for Rita to talk right now,” he said. “It’s her closest personal friend. It’s a tremendous shock to Rita.”

Two other Olympic teammates, Rose Magers and Sue Woodstra, who play for a rival team in the Japanese league, were watching the match on television.

Aia Selinger, wife of U.S. Olympic Coach Arie Selinger, who is now coaching in the Netherlands, said Magers called her at the Selingers’ Laguna Niguel home with the news that Hyman had been carried out of the gym. Hyman had lived with the Selingers off and on for the last 10 years.

Crockett called about 30 minutes later, Aia said, with the news that Hyman was dead.

“She said that Flo had been substituted out of the match and was cheering for the team when she just collapsed onto the manager’s shoulders,” Aia said.

“I asked her if Flo had said anything, or complained, and she said, ‘Flo said nothing.’ She said Flo was playing very well. . . . She is in complete shock. It was just very sudden, with no warning signs.”

Team director Yasuhiro Doi told the AP: “There wasn’t anything strange about her health before the match. She didn’t have any health problems.”

The 6-5 Hyman, a 1972 graduate of Inglewood’s Morningside High School, was a major force in turning the U.S. women’s team “from recreational into an internationally competitive program,” said Pat Zartman, former national team coach.

When Hyman joined the team in 1974, the Americans, after miserable performances in the 1964 and 1968 Olympics, had failed even to qualify for the 1972 Games.

By 1978, the U.S women were fifth in the world championships and, by 1980, they were considered a favorite to win an Olympic medal.

Bob Beeten, the U.S. Olympic Committee’s trainer, told Sports Illustrated in 1979 that in terms of overall strength, they were probably the best, or among the best, women athletes he had ever tested. “Fitter even than the track and field women, with the exception of distance runners,” he said.

When the United States boycotted the 1980 Games, Hyman was one of seven players who dedicated four more years to the pursuit of an Olympic medal. She was the oldest woman player in the 1984 Games.

An overpowering spiker, Hyman “awed, and was respected by, everybody in the world,” Zartman said. At the quadrennial World Cup in 1981, she was honored as the competition’s best hitter.

“As that team became successful and one of the dominant teams in the world, she was the best player on the team,” said Cliff McPeak, associate director of the U.S. Volleyball Assn. “And she was the most recognized.

“You can attribute the growth of volleyball in this country to a lot of things, but you’ve got to have stars. You’ve got to have models at the top. And people all over this country know who Flo Hyman is and grow up wanting to be like her.

“She meant a lot to the sport of volleyball, not only in the United States, but all over the world. She was a real force in the growth of the sport in this country.”

Said Laurie Flachmeier, Hyman’s teammate for six years on the U.S. team: “People chanted her name, ‘Hy-man! Hy-man!’ in gyms all over the world. She was the first one kids wanted to reach out and touch when we walked through a crowd. We had to guard her.”

McPeak seemed to be speaking for everybody who knew her when he said of Hyman, “She was kind at heart, yet incredibly competitive on the court.”

Hyman said in 1982 that she got into volleyball for the social aspect, but soon became more serious about the sport. “Somewhere there’s a changeover,” she said. “It’s not fun anymore--it’s a matter of achievement, a matter of accomplishment, a matter of something well done. And that’s when you get personal satisfaction.”

Said John Corbelli, an assistant coach of the Olympic team: “We just couldn’t get her out of the gym sometimes. She just loved to work. She loved volleyball. She was determined to be the best she could be and she was determined to get an Olympic medal.

“After that didn’t satisfy her, she wanted something more, so she kept playing.

“After the Olympics, a lot of us tried to talk her into retiring and going out at a high point in her career, but she wasn’t satisfied, so she went over to Japan to play for one year.

“Then we talked to her about retiring again, but, no, she wasn’t satisfied with the way she finished last year. She said she was going back this year. She was going to get in great shape and she was going to retire after this season on a strong note.”

Flachmeier said she last saw Hyman at the October wedding of another Olympian, Debbie Green.

Flachmeier said that Hyman had planned to pursue an acting career after returning from Japan this spring, adding that Hyman had been excited about playing a guerrilla warrior in a movie, “Order of the Black Eagle,” that was filmed last summer in North Carolina.

“She’d just bought a condo,” Flachmeier said. “She had a new car. She was all excited. She looked so good at Debbie’s wedding.

“She was real happy about going back to Japan. She wanted to make it her best year ever over there, and then come back and get into the movies.”

Kuehnert said Crocket will accompany Hyman’s body to Southern California Sunday or Monday. Funeral arrangements are pending.