BARCELONA ’92 OLYMPICS / DAY 12 : American Men Dig Deep to Stop CIS in Volleyball
For most of one day, this team was Unified, all right, and the common cause was enough to bring a grin to the craggy face of any old Cold Warrior.
Down went the U.S. women’s basketball team, favored to win the gold medal.
Down went the U.S. water polo team, among the favored to win the gold medal.
And then, the Commonwealth of Independent States, also know here as the Unified Team, and the United States played the first game of their men’s volleyball quarterfinal match at Paula Sant Jordi on Wednesday night.
And down went the U.S. men’s volleyball team in that game, 15-12.
Immediately, American middle blocker Doug Partie began thinking hat trick, a term that had absolutely nothing to do with sun protection for newly buzzed scalps.
“I sure didn’t want it to be a skunk,” Partie said.
So Partie and mates rallied ‘round what was left of the flag and proceeded to drive more than a few spikes through the heart of the CIS’ biggest Olympic day since the red jerseys read CCCP .
Winning 22 of 27 points during one frenetic stretch, the United States rallied for a 12-15, 15-10, 15-4, 15-11 victory that eliminated the CIS from medal consideration and kept the Americans in contention for their third gold medal in as many Olympic volleyball tournaments.
“What happened to the water polo and women’s basketball teams gave us a little bit of a wake-up call,” U.S. opposite hitter Steve Timmons said. “I think the women’s basketball team was strutting around a little too much. I think they were starting to think they were part of the Dream Team, the way they were acting.
“We didn’t want to get caught up in any of that.”
Timmons and friends didn’t have time. They were playing from behind in a hurry, pinned by a flurry of killing blasts from Ruslan Olikhver and Pavel Shishkin.
“During the first game,” Timmons said, “we called time out and talked about how they were playing very similarly to the way they did against us in ’88--outquicking us, outdigging us, outhustling us.
“I said, ‘Just keep playing, keep fighting. They’ll come back to earth.’ All we had to do was make a little run at them.
“Once we did, then we were pretty much in control.”
The run came in the second game, the United States erasing a 3-0 deficit with a 10-1 outburst. Losing that game leveled the CIS team emotionally--and emotion was virtually all it was playing on.
In the third and fourth games, fewer and fewer CIS digs were made, fewer and fewer dives attempted.
“They were getting tired,” U.S. team captain Scott Fortune observed. “I think we’ve shown over here, with all the matches we’ve won in the fifth game, that we’re going to outlast anyone. You better get us early, because we’re just getting warmed up in the fourth and fifth games.”
The United States led, 9-1, in the third game and 9-3 in the fourth. The last half of the match was typified by an exchange at 11-6 in the fourth game, with Yuri Cherednik pounding a spike into Timmons and Timmons’ open-armed dig lofting high over the CIS players and landing, untouched, just inside the back line.
“Sometimes you stick your arms out and the ball lands in the 15th row,” Timmons said, “and sometimes you stick them out and it goes right into the right corner. That’s volleyball.”
The United States (5-1) advanced to Friday’s semifinals against undefeated Brazil, which improved to 6-0 with a 15-12, 15-5, 15-12 victory over Japan. The other semifinal will pit Cuba (5-1) against the surprise of the tournament, the Netherlands (3-3), which upset pre-Olympic gold-medal favorite Italy, 15-9, 12-15, 8-15, 15-2, 17-16.
Cuba advanced with a 16-14, 15-9, 15-6 victory over Spain.
“This is beginning to feel like 1988,” Timmons said. “It was right after the U.S. men’s basketball team lost and people were starting to look to us--'You’re the saviors for the country.’
“I don’t look at it like that, but I do see some similarities.”
For one day, perhaps, but don’t count the gold until the Cubans and the Brazilians are out of the tournament. Cuba had been considered Italy’s strongest challenger, and now the Italians are gone. The hard-hitting Brazilians, according to Fortune, are “the hottest team in the tournament.”
Footnote: The United States went 1-1 against Brazil in pre-Olympic competition this year . . . and 0-8 against Cuba.
“We’re just hoping to sneak into the finals, and for Cuba to get so nervous that they lose their way to the finals,” Timmons said.