Coach Marv Dunphy's leave of absence from Pepperdine University is winding down. He'll soon be back in Malibu, high on a hill with a beautiful view of the ocean. Back with his family. Back in the land where volleyball is played on the beaches just for fun.
But he'll bring home with him memories of a classic Olympic volleyball match, a convincing victory by the United States men's team over the Soviet Union in a long-awaited confrontation. It had more than 22,000 fans chanting and cheering in the packed Chamshil Gymnasium Sunday afternoon in one of the last competitions of the 1988 Olympic Games.
In Dunphy's term as the national team coach, the United States has won the World Cup, the World Championships and the Olympics, the three major competitions considered the triple crown of international volleyball. And this team left no doubt that it deserves its No. 1 ranking.
When Doug Partie of Santa Barbara slammed down the final kill on the fourth match point for the gold medal, he seemed to be making a statement about the dominance of this U.S. team, and the crowd responded.
Amid the hundreds of United States flags waving around the arena was a flag of the state of California, in honor of a U.S. team made up mainly of California players--to the rest of the world a bunch of beach boys.
But these beach boys told the world that U.S. volleyball is not to be trifled with.
The U.S. team started slowly but built to a strong finish in a 13-15, 15-10, 15-4, 15-8 victory that left the Soviets no room for excuses.
Although the U.S. and Soviet teams have played often in international tournaments, this was the first time that they had met in the Olympic final.
The U.S. team was the defending gold medalist from the 1984 Games in Los Angeles that the Soviets boycotted. The Soviets won the gold in 1980, when the United States boycotted the Games in Moscow.
At last, they went head-to-head for the gold.
Bob Ctvrtlik of Long Beach, a swing hitter for the U.S. team, was not yet on the national team in 1984; he was a security guard when the Games were played in Los Angeles.
Sunday, he addressed himself to the reason this team so desperately wanted to win its second gold medal against the Soviets.
"The U.S. won the gold in 1984, but always there was the doubt, the thing we didn't talk about too much, that the strongest teams, the Eastern Bloc teams, weren't there," he said.
"No one is going to say now that we didn't win this gold medal against the best."
The Soviet Union has the best record in Olympic volleyball history (37-5). The Soviets have medaled every time they have competed. Their three Olympic gold medals are the most of any country.
Dunphy's teams have played the Soviets so many times that he not only can list the strengths and tendencies of every Soviet player, he can spell their names. He knew what to attack and how to adjust his attack.
The first game, a hard-fought exhibition, took 42 minutes and went through 9 game points before the Soviets won it, 15-13.
In the second game, the Americans jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead, but the Soviets finally responded, and that game took almost 35 minutes before the U.S. team won, 15-10.
One of the American team's strengths, and a trait that Dunphy stresses and directs, is the ability to adjust to the opponent. No matter how well the coaches know the other team and no matter how brilliant the game strategy, there is always room for fine-tuning after the first minutes of play. Dunphy said: "We may not be the biggest, the fastest or the strongest, but we're the most spontaneous. . . .
"It's a game of cat-and-mouse. Who's going to get set when and where, and who's going to adjust to that."
By the third game, the U.S. team was clearly in control, needing just 25 minutes to win, 15-4. Steve Timmons of Newport Beach, strong throughout the match, was especially so in this game. Although Timmons modestly called his own performance "average," he did say that the U.S. team turned it up when it needed to turn it up.
That's just what the Soviets did not do. They especially needed to respond in the second game, but they seemed to shrink from the competition. A sour-looking Soviet coach, Guennadi Parchine, pointed out: "We could not concentrate when we needed to. We could not measure up to the United States' psychological superiority."
Indeed, as Dunphy had said the day before, the U.S. team went into this match with a "warm confidence."
The Americans came in a little late, though. The gold-medal match started late because of the incredible bronze-medal match that Argentina won over Brazil, 15-10, 15-17, 15-8, 12-15, 15-9, in 3 hours 10 minutes.
In the three years that Dunphy has been the national coach, the Soviets have a 25-10 record against the Americans. But the U.S. team has beaten the Soviets in the last two major tournaments, the 1985 World Cup and the 1986 World Championships.
Doug Beal was the coach of the 1984 Olympic team, which started the Americans on the road to the volleyball triple crown that Dunphy completed with the World Cup and World Championship victories. Technically, the Olympic victory here starts the process over.
Dunphy credits his team's No. 1 world ranking and its undefeated advance to the gold-medal match to the team's international experience. The U.S. team plays between 50 and 70 matches on the road every year. In 1985, the year that Dunphy became the U.S. coach, the team was on the road 185 days.
"Our guys could write the book on jet lag," Dunphy said. "Our guys understand international politics. They know that travel can be uncomfortable, not always a lot of fun. We know how to compete with little rest and when we have to eat foods that we're not used to. We know what foods not to eat.
"The kind of travel we do also helps bring you together as a team. We had one series of flights from Riga, in the Soviet Union, to San Francisco that took 56 hours. In one 56-hour experience, you get to know the people around you.
"We know international officiating. . . .
"We knew what to expect when we got here because we had been to Korea twice in the last year for tournaments. The USOC briefed us on Korea and the customs here. We could have given the briefing.
"I think all of those things help when you find yourself in a major competition like this. While some of the other athletes might be distracted by unexpected problems, we can concentrate on competing."
The Americans had been dominant throughout the Olympic Games. They won six consecutive matches to advance to the gold-medal match. They beat Japan and the Netherlands without star setter Jeff Stork, who was resting a strained lower back suffered in an exhibition match in Japan just before the team came to Korea. But in the third match, against Argentina, the U.S. team was down by 2 games and tied at 4-4 in the third game. Stork came in to serve 5 quick points, and the United States won the game, 15-4.
The U.S. team did not lose another game in this tournament until the opening game of the match with the Soviets. The Americans finished off Argentina, then beat France, Tunisia and Brazil to advance to the semifinals, where they beat Brazil to set up their climactic triumph.