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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

Yugoslavia Rolls Russia for First Gold

Men's volleyball: Hard hitting pays off in 25-22, 25-22, 25-20 victory. Italy beats Argentina for bronze.

October 01, 2000|From Associated Press

SYDNEY, Australia — Yugoslavia hit the ball harder and played tougher than any other men's volleyball team at the Olympics, and was rewarded with its first gold medal.

Bouncing back from a four-game loss to the Russians to start the Games, Yugoslavia was relentless today in a 25-22, 25-22, 25-20 victory, winning some respect in a sport where it has been strong if not championship caliber.

Unlike Russia or the other top-level teams, Yugoslavia didn't have a standout hitter to rely on for easy points. It just had five players who could punish the ball and worked well together.

Yugoslavia got to the championship by being mentally stronger than world champion Italy, pulling out close points. It did the same against Russia.

The Russians, behind sensational hitter Roman Yakovlev, led, 21-20, in the first game and were tied at 22 in the second, but Yugoslavia pulled away both times.

The third game was no contest. Yugoslav blocker Vladimir Grbic stuffed Yakovlev to give his team a 16-12 lead. Grbic screamed, ran along the padded barrier and exhorted the crowd.

After it was over, Grbic stripped to his underwear and wrapped the Yugoslav flag around his waist.

The silver medal represents a resurgence by the Russians. After winning medals in its first six Olympics, including gold in 1964, '66 and '80, the team slumped to seventh in Barcelona and fourth in Atlanta.

After defeating Cuba in a tense five-game match to get to the semifinals, Coach Genadi Chipolin was so happy he rolled around on the floor and lost a shoe. Russia beat Argentina to get to its first gold medal match since 1988.

While Russia appeared to have worn down through the tournament--Yakovlev's 75-mph serve slowed with each match--the Yugoslavs only seemed to get stronger and play better.

Even though the Russians won more than two weeks ago, Yugoslavia had established itself as a dangerous team. Their next time out, the Yugoslavs pushed Italy to the limit before losing, 22-20, in the last game.

That was their final defeat. Next they won easily over the U.S. and got by Argentina and South Korea to finish group play. They defeated the Netherlands in the quarterfinals before stunning the Italians.

International fans could see it coming. The Yugoslavs took sixth in 1980 but didn't make the Olympics again until 1996, when they took a surprising bronze medal.

Yugoslav Coach Zoran Gajic said the day of the victory over Italy that his players were more focused since they were not paid for their efforts, while the Italians were compensated handsomely.

Gajic also said that people back home viewed volleyball as a "second-class" sport, and that they would "recognize nothing but gold."

They have some new heroes now.

Italy won the bronze medal, routing Argentina, 25-16, 25-15, 25-18.

Andrea Sartoretti, Samuele Papi and Pasquale Gravina, who led Italy to every major international title in the last six years but couldn't win Olympic gold, made quick work of the underdog Argentines.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Medal Winners

Gold: Yugoslavia

Silver: Russia

Bronze: Italy

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