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Members of U.S. Women's Volleyball Team Virtually Dedicated Their Lives to Winning a Gold Medal; Instead, They Had to Settle for a Silver Medal, but in Looking Back on the Experience . . . : THEY'D DO IT AGAIN

July 28, 1985|JERRY CROWE | Times Staff Writer

There was talk of the players returning to school in 1981, with training becoming less intense, but it didn't happen.

Unlike other U.S. teams--including the men's volleyball team, which incorporated a job program into its training schedule--Selinger's group did almost nothing but play volleyball. The women traveled the world, playing about 100 matches a year. And when they weren't traveling, they practiced--eight hours a day, six days a week.

In a word, these women were committed.

"Our training program the year of the Olympics was really intense," Green told ESPN. "We had three practice sessions (daily), plus running in the morning.

"We converted the offices in the gym into bedrooms because sometimes we wouldn't get done until 10:30, 10 o'clock at night, and have to be back at the gym at 7:45 in the morning. So I decided, instead of driving 10 minutes (to her apartment), that this was going to be my home, the gymnasium.

"That is where we were training for the Olympics and I just wanted to commit myself and not waste 20 minutes in transportation, so I just lived in the gym. After practice, I'd go up to my room, eat dinner, go to sleep, wake up, walk downstairs and start running."

It had to be done, the Olympians believe, because the other teams were doing it.

"It was a necessity to keep up with the other teams," Crockett said. "To keep up with the Joneses, as they say."

Said Woodstra, who devoted 11 years to training for the Olympics: "The Chinese were at the same stage we were in 1978. We were fifth in the world championships and they were sixth. So we went up the ladder together.

"We could see the type of training they were doing, and we had to find a way to match it and try to better it."

The Americans improved--they were third in the quadrennial World Championships in 1982--but as they did there was increased grumbling from players who had left the team.

Said Dale Keough, who spent nine months in the program and compared it to a Communist-run organization: "The (U.S.) girls have become foreigners in their own country."

Jo Ellen Vrazel, who left in 1981 after a year in the program, said Selinger was "trying to force a circle into a square."

Those who stayed disagreed.

"Everybody thought that we were just crazy and that we all had one mind, and it was called Selinger's mind," Flachmeier said. "I was really strongly against that belief. But there was no changing these people's minds.

"All we could do was just keep going for what we wanted to do and if we wanted to play in the Olympics and achieve our personal goals, that's the way we had to go through it and wanted to go through it. We chose to do it. And I think that really strengthened each individual."

Hyman, one of Selinger's outspoken backers, was disturbed by the criticism.

"Some people don't appreciate hard work," she said.

Green called Selinger a strict coach, but said, "Our attitude was, if you're going to go for something, go for it all the way."

If that meant missing out on some social things, so be it.

"There are some things we missed, but look at how many people who have the social life who would give anything to be in the Olympics," Green said. "I realize that now in talking to people. They say, 'You're so lucky. You're so lucky.' At the time I was on the team, practicing six and eight hours a day, I was thinking, 'Me, lucky?' "

When Green, Becker and Woodstra joined the junior team in 1973, they were still in high school, but they were practicing about 40 hours a week, with double sessions on weekends.

"I didn't do anything at my high school, but now it doesn't seem like any big deal," Becker said. "So what, a prom. It's not that big of a deal. I missed some things, but I got to do a lot more than other people got to do."

Foreigners in their own country? You won't convince these women.

Crockett refused even to say she made any sacrifices.

"If I had, I would have left the team because I would have been unhappy," she said. "I felt like I did everything I needed to do. I was happy. I had a social life. I went shopping. I did everything any normal 25-year-old American female would do."

Whatever anybody might have thought of Selinger's methods, they resulted in the U.S. team becoming one of the best in the world. The Americans were no worse than co-favorites, along with China and Japan, going into the Games.

But the U.S. Volleyball Assn. tried to fire Selinger in 1982, reportedly for insubordination. He kept his job, however, when the players came to his defense.

"We felt strongly about him," said Chisholm, an Olympian who rejoined the national team last month. "But I also think that changing coaches such a short time before the Olympics just wouldn't work out. It was just too scary."

The national program, now under Coach Terry Liskevych, who replaced Selinger last fall, differs from Selinger's program. A job program will begin next month and the women will practice only about four hours each morning before going to work in the afternoon.

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