Boxing, baseball . . . it doesn't seem to matter what sport it is. Cubans just love to beat Americans.
It was volleyball Thursday night at the Omni. And the Cubans beat the Americans. Just barely, but beat them just the same.
And as Cuban player Freddy Brooks said, " . . . they could not withstand our Cuban rhythm."
In a match pitting the only unbeaten teams in Pool A of the Olympic tournament, Cuba awoke after snoozing through the first game and won, 4-15, 15-9, 14-16, 15-8 and 18-16. The action more than satisfied hard-core volleyball enthusiasts, but the outcome disappointed the vocally pro-U.S. crowd announced as 15,200.
The Cubans scored three consecutive points in the last game, played under the rally-score system, winning when Bryan Ivie's serve hit the net. When teams are 2-2 in international play, rally scoring is used in the fifth game, meaning that either team can score on a play, not only the serving team.
Ivie's final serve was only one of several such disappointments.
"We haven't had a strong serving match yet," he said. "What's disturbing is that we're not only missing serves, we're not hitting them hard."
Coach Fred Sturm withheld specific criticism, but was disturbed as well.
"We want to be an aggressive serving team and there are going to be times we'll ask ourselves, 'Is it better to keep the ball in play?' " he said. "But we want to serve aggressively--and serve smart."
As disappointing as the loss was to the U.S., and it was disappointing, it didn't necessarily impede the team's progress to the medal round. The four top teams in each pool advance to the quarterfinals, No. 1 playing No. 4 and No. 2 playing No. 3.
Both Cuba and the U.S. have to play Brazil, the 1992 gold-medal team and the favorite here, but Brazil has been unimpressive in losing to Argentina and Bulgaria.
"Brazil is down, but they're still a very good team," Ivie said, not quite saying he hopes the Brazilians stay down for one more match, Saturday's against the U.S., then find themselves against Cuba on Monday.
"My only concern is our next two matches," he said. "We win those two and then we'll see what Cuba does with Brazil. It's very important to be in the top two [at the end of pool play]."
The U.S. will complete pool play Monday against Bulgaria.
It looked at the beginning as if the U.S. would have a cakewalk. On their second serve in the first game, the Americans ran off the first five points, then quickly buried the Cubans, who never quite got started.
After that, though, the Cubans made the U.S. earn everything. And, as usual, there was a lot of talk going back and forth. Cuba was warned four times for misconduct, the U.S. once.
Cuba Coach Juan Diaz chalked it up to the longstanding Cuba-U.S. rivalry and "Latin temperament."
Ivie said it was normal.
"It's always been a good rivalry, and there's always a lot of yelling," he said. "We've had a long, ongoing battle with these guys."
The shame of it, he said, was that they hadn't won this skirmish.
"We had a lot of chances in the fifth set and just didn't take care of it," he said. "Everybody had a chance to make a play that would have put us over the top."
Said American Jeff Nygaard, "It was a strange match. We came out aggressively and they were tentative and we took them out. Then in the second game, everything changed. They became aggressive and we got tentative. And then it just went back and forth."
Just the way the Cubans had planned, Brooks said.
"We knew we were going to interfere with their reception line and establish our Cuban rhythm. And at the end, they let go because they could not withstand our Cuban rhythm."
Not much question about it. Cubans love to beat Americans.