washingtonpost.com  > Sports > Leagues and Sports > Olympics > 2004 > Sport-by-Sport > Volleyball

Blocks, Crucial Calls, Leave Hopes Dashed

After Making Medal Round, U.S. Swept Away

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 30, 2004; Page D10

ATHENS, Aug. 29 -- The Olympics had moved to only hours before the Closing Ceremonies Sunday when the U.S. men's volleyball team found itself in a position that, a month ago, it would have found astonishing. The United States led Russia in the second set, a chance to even things up, the bronze medal on the line.

Yet when the Americans rose to clinch the set, the Russians -- with seven players on their roster 6 feet 7 or taller -- rose with them, and blocked the would-be winner. Russia used that moment as a spark to a dominant 25-22, 27-25, 25-16 sweep, dashing the hopes for the first U.S. men's volleyball medal since 1992.

Kevin Barnett (14), U.S. team hoped for more after surprising early run. "We're going to have a lot of guys back for Beijing," Ryan Millar said. (Morry Gash -- AP)

_____ Day 17 _____
A marathon assailant fails to spoil the last competition of the Games.
The Greeks led a celebration of an Olympics that at one point was almost taken away from them.
A brawl mars the finale of freestyle wrestling.
Boxer Andre Ward saves the U.S. team with a gold medal.
The South Korean gymnast who lost to Paul Hamm due to a scoring error goes to court.
Russian Alina Kabaeva wins the rhythmic all-around.
The Russia men's volleyball team beats the sluggish U.S. to win bronze, while Brazil wins gold.
The U.S. men's water polo team upsets Italy.

_____ More From The Post _____
Sally Jenkins: Let's give these Games a gold medal.
Mike Wise: Vanderlei de Lima finishes the marathon with heart.
Tom Shales: The Summer Games from Athens on NBC were not, for the most part, riveting, edge-of the-couch television.
Michael Phelps has experienced such a change, over so short a time.

_____ On Our Site _____
Athens Snippets: Fearing the worst, we get Greece's best.
Michael Phelps heads a list of multi-medalists.
Swimming is one of many sports in which records were set.
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Graphic: American Meb Keflezighi wins a surprising silver.

___ Sunday's Medals Results ___
Men's Marathon
48 Kg
54 Kg
60 Kg
69 Kg
81 Kg
Gymnastics (Rhythmic)
Men's Over 80kg
Women's Over 67kg
Team Handball
Water Polo
Wrestling (Freestyle)
Men's 60Kg
Men's 74Kg
Men's 96Kg

_____ Multimedia _____
Audio: Gold-medal winning athletes from the United States share their experiences.
Audio: American boxer Andre Ward discusses his journey to gold.
Audio: American Meb Keflezighi talks about his silver medal in the marathon.
Audio: The USOC is proud of the United States' medal haul.
Audio: Sprinter Justin Gatlin and the U.S. track and field team have a bright future.
Audio: IOC president Jacques Rogge formally closes the Athens Games.

_____ Photos _____
Day 17
Gold medal fans
Photo galleries page

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"Obviously, I feel pretty bad right now," said captain Lloy Ball, who will retire from international competition after this, his third Olympics. "Having only to win one match out of two to get an Olympic medal, especially playing a team that we beat in the past -- a team we think we can beat -- it's disappointing.

"But our inexperience and our inability to get points, against their experience and their ability to block points, was the difference."

In truth, the United States didn't expect to be playing for a medal -- "I didn't come here with high expectations," Ball said -- and wouldn't have been if not for a stirring comeback victory over Greece in the quarterfinals. But once the Americans got to the medal round, they didn't win another set, getting swept by Brazil in the semifinals and Russia for the bronze.

The hurt showed afterward for a variety or reasons. The United States had played so well against Greece -- when it looked dead in the fourth set, only to storm back and win it in five -- that its expectations were altered immediately afterward.

"I think we kind of crescendoed at the Greek match, and then kind of fell off from there," Ball said. "I think that was such an emotional night for all of us, I'm not sure we ever really recovered from it."

The Americans also never recovered from a pair of crucial calls that went against them in the second set, calls that swung the match. With the United States leading 17-16, Russia's Serguey Tetyukhin nearly ran out of the gym to make an outstanding save to keep the point alive, and the Russians ended up with a chance for a kill. The ball, though, sailed wide, according to the line judge. But referee Kim Kun Tae overruled the line judge, and awarded the point to Russia, tying the match.

Then, with the Americans trying to stay alive in the set, trailing 26-25, Ball was called for reaching over the net on set point. Russia got the point, and the set, and the U.S. team never recovered.

"I try to pride myself on giving the officials the benefit of the doubt," Ball said, "but the gentleman who was the [official in the chair] has been bad throughout the tournament. . . . Two points, when you lose 27-25, and you're fighting your way back. This is our livelihood. This is our dream, and to have it taken away by someone who overrules a line judge is very unfortunate."

The question for the team now is what happens in the future. The United States won gold in 1984 and 1988, but hasn't been near that form since. Now, the team must try to convince its members not to turn to beach volleyball and stick together for 2008. Coming close to a medal here may have achieved that.

"I think it fires up some guys," said Ryan Millar, a former college player of the year at BYU. "We have a young team here. We're going to have a lot of guys back for Beijing, and they're going to be, now, experienced guys that have played in the Olympics, and know how to play in big matches. It's going to be exciting to see what kind of team we have at that time."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company