The United States men's volleyball team may not get a chance to play Cuba at the Summer Olympics in Seoul, so the Americans are taking advantage of the opportunity now.
The Americans won their third straight match from the Cubans, 15-8, 11-15, 15-11, 15-4, in front of an overflow crowd of 4,636 last night at George Washington University's Smith Center.
This was the third of five matches the teams will play. The United States beat the Cubans in Durham and Charlotte over the weekend, and the tour will conclude in Denver and San Diego.
"We're clearly the No. 1 team in the country," said middle blocker Craig Buck, one of four holdovers from the 1984 U.S. Olympic team that captured the gold medal.
The Cubans will be expected to challenge for a medal in Seoul, if they attend the Games. As a sign of support for North Korea, which wants to play host to portions of the Games, Cuban President Fidel Castro said recently his country would not accept an invitation. However, many people, including U.S. volleyball team members, are hoping Castro eventually will decide to let his athletes compete.
"You can't punish a whole generation of athletes," said Karch Kiraly, another volleyball holdover from 1984. "Their women's team is a lock for the gold medal. All those people have worked their butts off to represent him and their country at the Olympics."
The Cubans, who were greeted by anti-Castro demonstrators outside Smith Center, started strong. They took a 5-1 lead in the first game, but couldn't hold it.
The Cubans came on to win the second game. The Americans fell behind early in that game and in the third, which they pulled out. After a 3-3 tie in the fourth game, the United States led the rest of the way to take the match.
"The Cubans are a good team, but they need some leadership," Buck said. "They were up and just cracked."
Many of the members of the U.S. Olympic team will be chosen from the 17 players on this team. Many of those players are from Southern California and many played basketball at some point, consequently there are more than a few Los Angeles Lakers fans on the team.
"You're not going to win every night. Not even the Lakers do that," said Kiraly, one of the few without a basketball background. "But it's important to keep on top of people every single night. That's a sign of all good teams. You may not win every time but you have to try."
The other two holdovers from the '84 U.S. team are Steve Timmons and Dave Saunders.
Timmons said there was not a letdown after the '84 Games, but there is a desire to regain that feeling of accomplishment.
But Timmons will be 30 in November and he knows that he can't play world-class volleyball forever.
"I've thought about it, and when I hurt my knee at the end of '84 I realized I had to think more about the future," he said. "An athlete's career is so fragile. If you're an accountant, you might get hurt, but you'll always have your mind. I realized that and developed my own company."
Timmons' company produces optic yellow beach volleyballs and a line of beach volleyball clothing. Asked if optic yellow was the wave of the future, Timmons said, "I don't know, but it's my wave and I'll ride it into the future."