The USA Olympic women’s volleyball team seeks its first gold medal ever in Saturday‘s finale to the London 2012 Games.
There is one problem: it faces No. 2 Brazil, which has become a fierce rival, most recently thwarting US hopes for an elusive gold medal four years ago in Beijing.
Believe it or not, regardless of how dominate Misty May and Kerri Walsh have been in the last 12 years playing in the sand, the Team USA women’s indoor volleyball team has only won three medals since joining the Olympics in 1964, never reaching the top tier of any Olympic podium.
As of July 9, 2012, Team USA is No. 1 in the Federation Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) World Rankings, due in large part to its victory in the 2012 Women‘s Volleyball Grand Prix on June 29, 2012.
After beating No. 15 South Korea in three sets in Thursday‘s semifinal, USA enters the final fray against the same, familiar, formidable opponent. They have to be considered the favorites, outside of one important factor: their history against Brazil.
They must forget about the last three Olympic Games. They must avoid getting flustered and remain focused. The health of Lindsey Berg is important. The leadership of Logan Tom will pay dividends. Though ultimately, the experience of the 2012 team is vital.
In the 2008 Olympic Games, the USA women were downed in the finals by Brazil in four sets, earning its second silver medal in its history and the first since the Los Angeles games in 1984. Considering that was the team’s third medal in its 48-year history, that should be seen a positive (the USA women won a bronze medal in the 1992 Barcelona Games.
Still, there is likely a bitter taste in the team’s collective mouth, knowing that 2008 marked the third consecutive time that the US was defeated by Brazil in the Olympics, including a bronze medal match in the 2000 Sydney Games.
Almost every individual on Team USA has relentlessly felt defeat at the hands of Brazil. According to teamusa.org, the USA roster features 10 athletes who have participated in the Olympic games (12 if you include exhibition). All 10 performed in multiple Olympic Games, including seven members with three or more tournaments played.
Three women played in the last three Olympic Games. Then there is Danielle Scott-Arruda. She set a national record with the most appearances in the US Women’s Volleyball Olympic Games with her fifth-consecutive competition.
How these women don’t wake up with cold sweats every night, following recurring nightmares that include visions of the Cristo Redentor coming to life and spiking a ball down their throats is a mystery to me. Then again, maybe they do.
Iron-Women Scott-Arruda will lead the widely experienced US squad to Earls Court in hopes of avenging the loss in Beijing, but it has to be distracting to have their past short-comings looming over them.
It took the Boston Red Sox 86 years to shake the proverbial monkey from off its back. After multiple failures in the Olympics, the US women won’t help but feel the pressure of a nation rooting for it to conquer the pesky Brazilians. The uniforms and faces of each of their individual opponents will be a constant reminder of the high stakes on each incumbent game, set and point on Saturday.
Unless, of course, they consider an Olympic competitor such as Rulon Gardner in the 2004 Games, who was the focus of one of the more memorable moments in recent Olympic memory when he handed Russian wrestler Aleksandr Karelin his first defeat in 13 years of international competition, and his nation’s first gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling.
There is no question that the US Women’s Olympic team is capable of winning gold. The question is if it will have the mental fortitude to overtake its rival.
My only advice is to set it and forget it.