London 2012: Ranking the Best Bets to Win Olympic Gold in Women's Volleyball
With the 2012 FIVB World Grand Prix just a few days away, things are starting to take shape for the 12 Olympic qualifiers in women’s volleyball.
Currently Team USA sits atop the FIVB rankings with Brazil right behind. Japan, Italy and China round out the top five. But things could change quite a bit between now and the championship game later this month.
But if the Olympics were to begin today, who would be the favorites to win? Time to take a look.
Brazil is the defending Olympic champion, and with a second-place ranking in the world it’s hard to see them farther down on this list. You’re still the champions until somebody beats you, right?
Opposite hitter Sheilla Castro led the team with 139 total points (129 kills, four blocks, six aces) in the 2011 World Cup in Japan. They also have one of the better liberos in the game, Fabiana Oliveira, who ranked third in Japan with 6.32 digs per set.
They’re a consistent threat in any competition with back-to-back silvers in the Grand Prix. They did finish fifth in the World Cup, but they aren’t second in the world for nothing.
Yes, they’re ranked No. 1 in the world. But they have yet to win gold in the Olympics, finishing with silver in Beijing and in 1984 in Los Angeles.
Since dropping the title match in Beijing to Brazil 3-1, Team USA has been hard at work. Led by former men’s coach Hugh McCutcheon—who led the men in an upset victory over, you guessed it, Brazil, in the Beijing Games—the ladies have won back-to-back FIVB World Grand Prix’s and finished second in the World Cup in 2011.
The team revolves more around offense than defense, with 6’4” Destinee Hooker and setter Lindsey Berg leading the charge. Hooker finished third in scoring in Japan last year with 185 total points on 167 kills, 16 blocks and three aces.
They’ll need similar performances to take gold.
They’re the defending FIVB World Cup champions, but outside of that the Italians have been relatively quiet.
Italy has never medaled in the Olympics, but they seem to have their first real opportunity to change that. The Grand Prix will be an interesting test for this team. A strong finish could secure their spot as one of the favorites to take home gold in London, but if they walk away without a medal, things look strikingly different.
Outside of the World Cup Gold they finished third in the Grand Prix in 2010 and a dismal seventh last year. Carolina del Pilar Costagrande is going to need another World Cup MVP performance to help this team reach its goal.
The Russians haven’t had a gold medal around their necks since they were the USSR in 1988, their last of four Olympic golds.
They still aren’t the team they used to be, having left Beijing without a medal for only the second time since their last championship team. After no-showing in the past two Grand Prixs and the past several World Cups coach, Vladimir Kuzyutkin will have some work to do. They got in by winning the Asia and World Olympic Qualification Tournament.
The one advantage this team has is the gigantic Ekaterina Gamova. At 6’8” on just a 7’4” net, that’s a very nice weapon for any setter to have.
Japan kind of squeaked into these Olympic games, winning the final spot in the Asia and World Olympic Qualification Tournament as the top Asian team to not qualify in the tournament.
Japan isn’t as imposing as Brazil or Italy and doesn’t have the recent success that the U.S. has, but they have been very steady. Back-to-back fifth-place finishes in the FIVB World Grand Prix, a fourth in Japan in the World Cup last year, and a bronze medal in 2010 in the World Championship shows where this team is.
They’ve placed fifth in the past two Olympic Games, and with China and Russia steadily declining, I wouldn’t be surprising to see the Japanese steal their first medal since their 1984 bronze.