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.
To quote the comment in Russian on the 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.
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