Every year, the Olympic Games are viewed as the most important event for all sportsmen around the world while other competitions are primarily seen as practices in which athletes get to test strategies and analyze their opponents.
However, some tournaments have been good precursors for a team’s potential in a particular sport at the Olympics. One such tournament has been men’s volleyball World League Final, whose winners in the Olympic year have proved to be very successful at the Games.
In 1996, the Netherlands defeated Italy in Rotterdam Final 3-2 after 158 minutes of play, and went on to beat them again in Atlanta's gold medal match with the same result. Brazil was victorious in Rome Final in 2004 against Italy 3-1. A few months later, they again defeated the unlucky Azzurri 3-1 in Athens Olympic final.
The Italians won other two tournaments in 1992 and 2000. However, though Italy has won eight World Leagues, three World, and four European Championships between 1989 and 2000, they had only succeeded to win one silver and one bronze at the Games in that period.
In 1992, the Netherlands defeated them in the quarterfinals 3-2. In 2000, they managed to win a bronze after losing in the semifinals to the champion-to-be Yugoslavia 3-0.
Although winning the World League in the Olympic year doesn’t necessarily promise a medal at the Games, the tournament has proven to be a reliable predictor of success.
In the most recent World League Final, which was held in Rio de Janeiro on July 27, 2008, the United States triumphed over Serbia 3-1. By winning the tournament, the Americans have proved that they will be a serious contender for one of the medals at the upcoming Beijing Games.
If one can rely on history, one can conclude that the USA will have a solid chance to continue the success of its World League predecessors. However, it remains to be seen whether the US team will be able to rise to the task.