Four years ago in Beijing, coach Hugh McCutcheon led the U.S. men to an emotionally charged gold-medal victory against defending champion Brazil.
The U.S. women are his project in London.
The women have never won gold in indoor volleyball, which became an Olympic sport in 1964. In 2008 they came close but fell to Brazil in the final.
There are many who believe that this will be the year for the Americans. The team is currently ranked No. 1 in the world, and qualified early for the Olympics by claiming the silver medal at 2011 World Cup in Japan.
It likely will consist of many of the players who won silver in Beijing, including outside hitter Logan Tom and setter Lindsey Berg. Promising newcomer Destinee Hooker is also vying for one of the 12 spots on the team, which is expected to be announced early in July.
“You don’t back-door your way into being the best at anything. You have to deal with the fact that there are a lot of strong teams out there and you’ve got to be comfortable in that environment. That’s not something we’re afraid of, that’s something we embrace,” McCutcheon said. “We’ll work as hard as we can to be the best we can come London, and we’ll either be good enough or we won’t. But it’s not going to be a whole lot about who is on the other side of the net. It’s going to be about stepping out on the floor and playing USA volleyball to the best of our ability.”
McCutcheon, a New Zealander, took over the women’s team for the Olympic quadrennial and will leave to become head coach at Minnesota after London.
The Beijing Games started with unimaginable tragedy for McCutcheon, whose father-in-law was murdered at a popular tourist attraction in China just before the opening ceremonies. He left the men’s team briefly to be with his family, but rejoined his players in their undefeated march to the gold.
The U.S. women have won the silver medal at the Olympics twice, in Beijing and in 1984. The team won bronze at the Barcelona Games in 1992.
The Brazilian women are ranked No. 2 in the word, and as the defending champions they’re considered among the favorites with the United States in London. They’ll both play in the same pool in London along with China, Serbia, Turkey and Korea. Italy, Russia, Japan, Algeria, the Dominican Republic and host Britain make up the other six-team pool.
The top four teams to emerge out of each pool will advance to the quarterfinals. The medal matches at Earls Court are set for Aug. 11.
There was some controversy in the field when Thailand claimed Japan threw an Olympic qualifying match last month against Serbia to avoid landing in the same pool as the United States and Brazil. The FIVB, the sport’s international governing body, rejected the allegations.