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USSR vs. USA / Men’s Volleyball World Cup 1984

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1984 Japan Cup – USA v USSR
A few months after the 1984 Olympics, the gold medallists of the the previous two Olympics met in the Japan Cup. USA won in Los Angeles, while the USSR team was cooling its heels at home. USA definitely benefiting from the great rivals absence, but who would actually have won a full strength Olympic Volleyball tournament.

A few months later the teams met in the Japan Cup in a match I have written briefly about once before. The match gives precious few clues about who might have won a Los Angeles match up, and gives some nice background for what happened when they met at the World Cup in 1985.

Lineup – The USA team is missing Dvorak, playing in Italy, and Timmons, from a knee injury suffered a week earlier in Korea, from the Olympic team. Dvorak’s replacement Jeff Stork had apparently spent only two weeks with the team, which is apparent from some balls that get away from him. Timmons replacement was Mike Dodd who later found some measure of fame, and 12 years later an Olympic medal, as a beach volleyball player. Dodd spend some time with the team in late 84 / early 85 while there was some doubt about his eligibility to play. He had played in the IVA, which was considered a professional league in the days when that was frowned upon. Subsequently its participants were banned from playing in amateur (ie ‘official’) competition. Dodd’s application for reinstatement was eventually rejected and he returned to the beach.

For the USSR, their lineup is considerably different than it was twelve months later. Missing are Vilde, Pantchenko, Antonov and for part of the match Schkurikhin, for reasons unknown, to me at least. What we can say with confidence is that neither team was at full strength.

The Match – The video shows only some highlights, so there is not much to say, other than like the 1985 match it is real to and fro battle. Some things of note:

In 1985, the Soviets served barely 10% of the time to Kiraly. In this 20 minute clip, Kiraly receives nearly as many balls in total as in three hours at the World Cup. Whether by coincidence or not, Kiraly does seem a lot sharper in attack in this match. Perhaps that is one reason they those not to serve to him later.
Speaking of sharper, Savin seems much more engaged and playing better. He spends more time blocking in different positions, against Powers or Kiraly, a tactic for which he was well known in earlier tournaments. He also makes some great defensive plays.
Powers is not nearly the factor he would be a year later, while on the other side of the net Schkurikhin is an absolute powerhouse.
Overall there seems to be a lot less tension in the match, as though the stakes were much lower. This can be attributed to the different lineups, and to the fact that the stakes were much lower.
Pure Speculation – Some stories that I have heard suggested that USSR were past their best in 1985 as there had been a loss of leadership in a generational change. In 1985 Vilde and Antonov were significant players but seemed also to be the recipients of a lot of ‘advice’ from their more experienced teammates, particularly Zaitsev and Savin. In the decisive World Cup match, the Soviet Union lost two sets despite big leads suggesting these changes were significant. In this match the close ups of the players give away a lot less negative interactions. Given how close the teams were in 1985, with the Soviets being weakened by those changes, one could be inclined to conclude…

For what it’s worth, here is a Data Volley match report of the video below, incomplete as it is. 84 JAPAN CUP
USSR, USA, Men’s Volleyball World Cup
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