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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

Present Is Golden, but Future Not Bright

Women's volleyball: Cuban stars Luis and Carvajal announce retirements after victory over China.

August 04, 1996|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — The best woman volleyball player in the world fingered her gold medal and dissolved into tears.

"No se," Mireya Luis said.

"I don't know."

The Cuban star does not know if she can be satisfied with her career if it ends before she has a chance to play where she wants to and keep what she earns.

Unlike her countryman, Omar Linares, the third baseman on Cuba's gold-medal baseball team, Luis does not seem to have made her peace with what her future might be. Or might not be.

Cuba's women's volleyball team has not been so mightily scrutinized as its baseball team. Last year, Luis--a magnificent outside hitter though she is only 5 feet 8--played for a semiprofessional team in Japan along with teammates Magalys Carvajal and Regla Torres.

The entire Cuban team lived with them in Kobe, training there from November through the spring. The money the women earned helped pay the team's way, although the players are said to have been allowed to keep part of it.

Luis would like to play abroad again, and she seems to believe a decision by Cuban officials to let her and a couple of others do so--perhaps in Italy or Brazil--was tantalizingly close a couple of weeks ago.

That issue has been the undercurrent of an Olympic tournament in which Cuba stunningly lost twice in round-robin play, to Brazil and to Russia. The Cubans finally jettisoned a style so uninspired it seemed as if they did not care whether they won or lost when they played the United States in the quarterfinals, then powered through to the championship, beating China, 14-16, 15-12, 17-16, 15-6, in the gold-medal game Saturday at the Omni.

Afterward, Luis, who has been on the national team since she was 15 and turns 29 this month, and Carvajal, 27, both said they were retiring from the national team.

That may be the only leverage they believe they have.

"I have been playing volleyball a long time. I want to do other things. I want to spend more time with my family. And maybe," she said with a coy, hopeful smile, "maybe I will have the opportunity to play in some other country, I don't know. I have not made a decision. As far as the national team, I think this is enough.

"I think that my team is already a solid team. We have other players that can substitute for me. My decision would not have an impact on the team's performance.

"I have received offers from other countries. I have not accepted any and have not signed."

Luis is an ebullient type, and moments after crying at the podium during a news conference she was apologizing to those who apologized for upsetting her.

But minutes later, with two Atlanta police officers stationed feet away as she prepared to do a television interview in Spanish, Luis cried again, falling into the arms of the reporter with the microphone.

"She wants to play internationally but the decision hasn't been made," Carvajal said. "I got emotional too. I identified with what Mireya was saying."

And what does Carvajal want for her own career?

"No se," she said with a laugh. "I also am retiring. It's a very hard thing. So many years, so many championships."

So few choices.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

MEDALISTS

Volleyball

WOMEN:

Gold: Cuba

Silver: China

Bronze: Brazil

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