If volleyball had a journalist or written tradition, one of the great debate topics would revolve around the 1984 Olympic Men’s Volleyball tournament. The United States were the great emerging team, playing at home, with a group, the core of which would largely dominate world volleyball between 1986 and 1988. The Soviet Union, had dominated world volleyball since 1977 with a great team of champions very close to their peak. One great team just before its peak against one great team just after its peak.
The first ‘what if?’ is who would have won the 1984 Olympics if the Soviet Union had not boycotted. The 1985 World Cup suggests that it would have been exceptionally close and hints, to me at least, that one year earlier with the Soviets closer to their peak and USA further from theirs, the Soviets would have been favourites.
The second ‘what if?’ is whether the system of specialisation developed by the US would have become so widespread, so fast if they had not won the gold medal. This ‘what if?’ is clearer. I think specialisation would have become just as widespread, although maybe taken a little longer to become standard practice.
There is another hint at what the outcome might have been in a match played later in 1984 at the Japan Cup. Highlights have just popped up on YouTube. The match was won in five sets by the Soviet Union. The ‘what ifs?’ remain.
A Russian comment on the match what appeared on a different video…
“This “Japanese Cup” in November 1984. It was conducted among male teams 8 countries – the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, the USA, South Korea, Poland, Mexico, Japan, China. The Soviet Union in the year boycotted the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in response to the boycott of the Summer Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980, so the US volleyball team took first place in the summer of 1984. And Japan Cup team of the USSR proved that in fact it is still the strongest in the world.”
To quote Doug Beal from his book, ‘Spike!‘…
“The USA goes to this tournament and answers the critics of the boycotting countries. We crush Poland and Bulgaria, lost a tight match to the USSR, and along with the Soviets dominate the field. (We are, of course, without half of our Olympic team***).”
*** Timmons was injured and Dvorak doesn’t seem to play. The Soviet Union on the other hand are missing Pantchenko and Antonov.
Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.
It was a friendly tournament. Just an example: after the 1984 Olympics Brazil also defeated USA, and they had Timmons and Dvorak. What does it mean? Nothing, the Americans were better than the Brazilian team back then – they had played the Olympic final. USSR wasn’t at the same level of USA, in my opinion, though the Soviets were clearly the second best team those days. If friendlies are taken into consideration, before the LA Olympics Americans played USSR four times in front of a Soviet crowd and won all matches, which according to some people let Platonov devastated.
By the way, if Team USA won every major from 1985 to 1988, wouldn’t be more accurate to say they dominated the whole cycle? I know the Soviets lost 2-3 to USA at the 1985 World Cup, but a five-setter isn’t enough to say they were at the same level, when USA dismantled all the other opponents, while USSR struggled to beat 3-2 a Brazilian team with a lot of subs (losing sets by 15-4 and 15-5) and lost 1-3 to Czechoslovakia, quite a poor performance – after that defeat Platonov said if he could he’d leave the team immediately.
What If? In the spring of 1984, the US team arrived in the USSR to conduct test games … The first game was in the city of Kharkov. I was at that game. (I was very young! :)) An hour before the game, the players of the USSR team learned that no one from the USSR would go to the 1984 Olympics. Boycott. But the players of the USSR team decided to slam the door loudly. Did not work out. That game was won by the Americans, if not mistaken 3-1. A series of games was also won by the US team. Objectively, the US was stronger, more organized, more stable. In addition, the USSR team had many internal problems and conflicts along the line “players – the coach” … This is insider information. Many people from that team I know personally … But to dream up on the topic “What if?” Always interestno!
In my humble opinion, I think the American team had some or several tactical and emotional advantages that made it so powerful in those years. The Russian team was a maximum exponent of the European power volleyball, but without emphasizing such key issues as defense and a system of attack according to the rival. Still seeing Karch Kiraly work as a coach and his videos or interviews where he places so much emphasis on the player’s mental strength, and so as he did for many years in the beach volleyball, only show that in this case, the final the Olympic Games in Los Angeles would have been won by them. Thanks to Youtube we can see many matches of Savin and Co.’s legendary Russian team today, and I am surprised by several things (even being a fan of them for unclear reasons and very subjective, but they do not prevent me from being critical of them), static in the defense, a little innovative outfit, a tandem block system that did not work in front of the American team, and other details more than in the finals they played against (1985 onwards) could never overcome. Kiraly’s mental strength, Buck’s good serve and block, Timmons’s intelligent block and attack, Powers attack, Dvorak’s intelligent game and then Stork, etc … made this team a benchmark for the change of style and gameplay worldwide, which combined to perfection the European power volley and the agility and defensive capacity of the Asians and a little what made Brazil, but better done. In short, I think the American team would have beaten the Russians. Much to my regret … but there was a before and after that American team.
I don’t disagree. But we have to remember that the we are talking about 1984. I think we are judging USA a little bit by what they became later. In 85 and 86 they were stronger also BECAUSE they had already won in 84. The 84 team was not the same as the 85 team.