Memories for a Buck : Two-Time Olympian Middle Blocker Looks Back


Craig Buck misses the intensity and adrenaline rush sparked by trash-talking opponents. He also misses the glory of competing in packed stadiums as part of the world’s best volleyball team.

Buck, a 35-year-old graduate of Taft High who grew up in Tarzana, often yearns for the good old days when he was part of the U.S. National team that ruled the world in the 1980s.

He enjoys playing in a four-man pro beach volleyball league now, but there’s no way it can compare to his days with the national team. This is kick-back fun in the sun. That was tough work and big returns.


The 6-foot-8 middle blocker played on the U.S. team for more than 10 years and earned two Olympic gold medals; in Los Angeles in 1984 and Seoul in ’88.

He played a huge role in the team’s success yet stood in the shadow of stars Karch Kiraly and Steve Timmons, like a football lineman who lives in obscurity while the quarterback receives all the attention.

“He was the best blocker in the world,” said Kiraly, the top-ranked player in pro beach volleyball. “He was really a dominant force. When you play defense behind a guy like that you get a lot of easy plays. I never wanted to face him in practice even.”

Buck says winning the first gold in ’84 was extra special because it was at home in front of family and friends. He was a two-time All-City volleyball player at Taft in 1975-76 and a two-time All-American at Pepperdine University in 1979-80.

“It was overwhelming,” he said. “It was a blast, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There’s nothing better than standing there, listening to your national anthem with a gold medal around your neck.”

Beating the Soviet Union for the gold in ’88 was also rewarding, but by then the U.S. was ranked No. 1 and expected to win. The team had everything to lose and nothing to gain.


Buck was perhaps the most respected middle blocker in Seoul. Marv Dunphy, the ’88 Olympic coach and Buck’s coach at Pepperdine, says other teams tried to imitate the powerful blocker and watched him on video in an effort to master his style.

“At his position he was the best ever,” Dunphy said. “I remember times when he would take over the net and take over matches and it wasn’t just his size. It was his serve and court play in general. He is a complete player, not just a big guy blocking.”

Buck’s performance through the years proved what a well-rounded player he is. In ’85 he was the MVP of the USA Cup and a year later he was selected best server and named to the All-World team at the World Championships.

In 1987 he was America’s top player at the Savinn Cup in the Soviet Union and in ’90 he was the U.S. Olympic Committee Volleyball player of the year.

Buck retired from the national team shortly before the ’92 Olympics in Barcelona, partly because of stiff competition from Bryan Ivie and Bob Samuelson, and because at the time his newborn son had health complications that required surgery.

“I regret it,” Buck said. “I really wanted to play in 1992. It was a difficult decision and a very emotional time for me. I had not watched an Olympics on TV since 1978. It was tough.”


During breaks from the national team Buck played professionally for two seasons in Italy and one in France. In ’91 he was a member of the Italian League All-Star team.

Buck got into volleyball as a seventh-grader because his older sister played. She competed at UCLA, as did his younger sister, but neither remains active in the sport.

Buck grew up playing in weekend leagues at Pierce and Valley colleges. Now living in Santa Barbara, he stays in shape for weekend four-man tournaments by running, playing basketball and lifting weights.

He drives to Burbank once a week to work at the family sports production business his father started in 1940.

Buck handles advertising and publicity at H. Werner Buck Enterprises and has pursued other business ventures.

His first love, however, is volleyball. He plans to compete into his 40s, which isn’t far-fetched now that his joints don’t sustain the brutal daily pounding they did with the indoor game.


“I had the most physically demanding position on the team,” Buck said. “I had to jump every single play, so I would jump three or four times as much as any other player in practice.”

Jumping on sand is almost soothing compared to doing it on hardwood floors. Buck plays for Paul Mitchell, one of five teams in the four-year-old American Beach Volleyball League.

The 12-tournament season goes from March through August with stops nationwide.

Each player receives travel expenses in addition to prize money and perks from sponsors. Most tournaments have a $35,000 purse with the first place team earning $11,000.

After eight events, Paul Mitchell is in second place with two tournament victories and two second-place finishes.

Buck is one of the league’s oldest players but that didn’t stop Paul Mitchell captain Jeff Williams from drafting him earlier in the year. Williams, a two-time All-American at UCLA, says Buck is the best blocker on the four-man tour.

“He can play another three to four years because he keeps himself in such good shape,” said Williams, 29. “He is more intense now that he’s getting older because he doesn’t want to get outplayed by the younger guys. His hitting and blocking is above everyone else’s in this league.”


The rallies are long and often exciting, but four-man beach volleyball can never completely fill the void left by the absence of international competition for Buck.

“I wish I was on the U.S. team now,” he said. “Boy I really miss that. I really do.”