TOKYO, Aug. 8 (Xinhua) — Dark horses France and two-time Olympic silver medalists the United States made history by winning the men’s and women’s volleyball titles at Tokyo 2020.
The title winning feat of the French men, whose best result prior to Tokyo was an eighth-place finish in 1988, was the biggest surprise. Following a lackluster fourth-place finish in preliminary Pool B, they pulled off a stunning 3-2 victory over Poland, the top finishers from Pool A, before sweeping Argentina 3-0 in the semifinals and holding off the Russian Olympic Committee 3-2 in another five-set thriller to win their first Olympic medal in volleyball.
“This is a moment of magic. It’s a dream come true, and I think everybody agrees with me that it’s a fairy tale. It’s been a fairy tale since the beginning,” said France’s head coach Laurent Tillie. “Over the past nine years we have had joy and pain, but we remained focused on this goal. Winning the final against the great team of Russia, three sets to two, this gives us huge satisfaction.”
Rio 2016 champions Brazil, reigning world champions Poland and the United States had been considered title favorites before the start of the Tokyo Games, but the American men failed to make the quarterfinals after ranking fifth behind France in Pool B, while Poland and Brazil lost to France and Russia respectively in the semifinals.
“Who would have predicted a final between Russia and France? Few people, I think. We had three teams that were obvious favorites – Poland, Brazil and the USA. Now, we shouldn’t change our state of mind when we enter a new competition,” said Benjamin Toniutti of France.
“We are going to enjoy this one tonight and will celebrate this historic victory together because we have been under pressure for a very long time.”
The Russian men could be satisfied with a silver, for their fifth volleyball medal in the last six Olympic Games. Russia’s Finnish head coach Tuomas Sammelvuo paid tribute to his French counterpart.
“I want to point out that Laurent Tillie is a great man because he is leading as a coach and has done something not only for French volleyball but also for world volleyball,” he said. “So, all the best to (Laurent). I believe we will be meeting in the future.”
Argentina also caused a surprise by outlasting world No. 1 Brazil 3-2 to win the bronze medal. It was the country’s second Olympic medal in volleyball, after also beating Brazil in the bronze medal match at Seoul in 1988.
The USA women, who had lost to Brazil in the Olympic final twice in a row at Beijing 2008 and London 2012, finally reached the top of the podium after sweeping Brazil 25-21, 25-20 and 25-14 in Sunday’s final. With this stunning victory, the women’s Volleyball Nations League winners snapped Brazil’s seven-game winning streak at these Games.
Karch Kiraly, who became the second person to win Olympic volleyball gold medal as both player and coach, attributed the Americans’ victory to two particular attributes.
“I’ll use two words: ‘Grit’ and ‘grind’. They have this fierce, strong spirit and an ability to keep trying when things are hard,” he said. “Those two g-words were certainly a part of who we were here. Grit and grind.”
The first person to win Olympic volleyball gold medal both as player and coach is Jenny Lang Ping, but under her guidance, Rio 2016 champions China surprisingly crashed out of the quarterfinals after losing their first three preliminary matches in a row against Turkey, the United States and the Russian Olympic Committee.
“I take all the blame as I’m the head coach. When facing difficulties, I could not find a solution and lead the team out of the trap,” said Lang.
Five years after suffering a disappointing loss to China in the quarterfinals at Rio on home soil, traditional powerhouse Brazil rose up again as they reaped seven consecutive wins on the way to the final. Despite Sunday’s lopsided loss to the United States, the Brazilian women collected their fifth medal in the last six Olympic Games.
“Our team, when we arrived in Tokyo, no one believed we could take part in the quarterfinals. This year we resumed our work that was halted because of the pandemic, and our team had to climb against the best and we found ourselves in a final with the U.S.. The only thing is that we had the potential to have a better performance,” said Brazil’s head coach Jose Roberto Guimaraes.