Volleyball made its Olympic debut at the 1964 Tokyo Games after being adopted by the International Olympic Committee as a non-Olympic sport in 1949. Eight years later, on September 24, 1957, the IOC session in Sofia recognised Volleyball as an Olympic sport and FIVB as the sole worldwide Volleyball governing body in all its disciplines. In 1961, Volleyball was added as a medal sport for men and women at the Tokyo Games in 1964.
Volleyball at the Olympics
Volleyball's debut at the Olympic Games in 1964 was truly exciting. In the men's event, the well-informed Japanese spectators and TV viewers were enthusiastic witnesses to a captivating three-way battle between USSR, Japan and Czechoslovakia. USSR ultimately prevailed, pushing the Czechs into second place. Japan, after a surprising defeat to Hungary in the second round, had to be content with bronze. All went as expected in the women's event as Japan, 1962 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship winners in Moscow, claimed gold by beating USSR into second place and gave up only one set in six matches, to eventual bronze medallists Poland.
Mexico City 1968
At the 1968 Games in Mexico City the USSR men won gold again despite a bad start, losing 3-2 to USA, but bounced back to clinch gold ahead of Japan. In the women's event, the Soviets' physical prowess and inventiveness made sure they were able to turn the tables on the Japanese to finish first as the Asian side settled for silver.
Munich 1972 finally saw the Japan men's team strick gold as they beat East Germany to the crown as USSR finished third. In the women's grand finale, USSR outstripped Japan in the fifth set of the final to edge to the gold while North Korea took bronze.
Coach Hubert Wagner led the Polish Men to Olympic gold at the 1976 Games in Montreal, beating the Soviets to gold without losing a single match while Cuba burst onto the international stage with a well-deserved bronze. In the women's event, the Soviet-Japanese seesaw at the top lost no momentum with the Asian nation coming out on top on this occasion. South Korea, led by Jo Heajung, clinched bronze meanwhile.
The Western boycott (absent women's teams included holders Japan, Korea and rising stars USA and China) affected the fifth Olympic Women's Volleyball Tournament, making it more of a European Championship dominated, as usual, by USSR. Silver went to East Germany and bronze to Bulgaria. Much was expected of the Cubans but they disappointed. On the men's side, the boycott didn't mean as much upheaval with as the USSR prevailed over Bulgaria while Romania took bronze.
Los Angeles 1984*
The political withdrawal of the Eastern countries from the 1984 Los Angeles Games did not significantly damage the women's tournament as the event saw a fascinating dual between debutantes China and hosts USA. The new side lost to the U.S. in the preliminaries but bounced back to take gold as China's Ping Lang stood head and shoulders above the rest. In the men's tournament, USSR, Cuba, Poland and Bulgaria were missing for political reasons as the hosts went on to win the tournament, beating Brazil as Italy came third.
USA finished on top in South Korea in 1988 as they beat USSR to second. Argentina pulled off a surprise third-place finish, beating a Brazil team full of veterans. In the women's event, USSR started off by stumbling against Japan but came back in style, coming from behind in a spectacular final against Peru. China's third place marked the end of a fantastic winning streak in international competition that had began in 1981.
Brazil's men claimed their first Olympic gold in Barcelona in 1992, losing only three sets in eight matches as they saw off the Netherlands in the final. Outgoing champions USA lost in the semi-finals but bounced back to claim bronze. On the women's side, Cuba claimed gold, the Caribbean team finishing unbeaten with their most difficult match coming in the semifinals against USA (where they came back from 2-1 down). USSR finished second and USA third.
With the likes of the Van de Goor brothers Bas and Mike and Peter Blangé, a strong Netherlands men's outfit reached the pinnacle of their time together as a team by claiming Olympic gold, beating Italy, whose ranks included the likes of Andrea Zorzi, Samuele Papi and Andrea Giani, in the final in a five-setter. Yugoslavia made a statement of intent when, led by the Grbic brothers Vladimir and Nikola, they claimed bronze. In the women's tournament, Cuba retained their gold, the second of three-in-a-row for the likes of Regla Torres, one of the greatest players ever to grace the game. The Cubans beat China in the final, with Brazil claiming the bronze medal
The Cuban women did what seemed the impossible by claiming their third-straight Olympic gold in Sydney. The Cubans beat Russia into the silver medal position, with Brazil picking up their second-straight bronze medal. On the men's side, Yugoslavia improved on their bronze medal in Atlanta by claming gold, the Grbic brothers, Goran Vujevic and a young Ivan Miljkovic combining to devastating effect. Russia finished in second place and Italy third.
USA men dethroned 2004 Athens champions Brazil for their first Olympic title in 20 years as their female compatriots surprised many with their own run to the final and but for the world No. 1 Brazilians it would have been a golden sweep for America. The Americans had two non-natives to thank for their success: men's coach Hugh McCutcheon of New Zealand and women's coach "Jenny" Ping Lang, the former Chinese national team player who played and won against USA in 1984, the American women's only previous attempt at gold. The Brazilian women, meanwhile, had coach Jose Roberto Guimaraes to thank for their omnipotent performance. "Ze Roberto" became the first coach to lead teams to Olympic gold in both the men's and women's tournaments following his Barcelona 1992 triumph with the Brazil Men's team. Russia claimed bronze in the men's event, China took bronze in the women's.
Rio 2016 was marked by Brazil's third Olympic gold when they swept Italy 3-0 in front of an ecstatic home crowd at the iconic Maracanãzinho. Although the home side had struggled in pool play, they made a remarkable run through the knockout stage, eliminating Argentina in the quarterfinals and Russia in the semis. Italy, on the other hand, aspiring to the only major competition gold that still eludes them, had beaten Brazil in pool play and knocked out Iran in the quarterfinals and USA in the semifinals. The Americans did however get on the podium following a 3-2 comeback win over Russia. The men's gold medal compensated Brazilian fans for the disappointment by the hosts' women's team which crashed out in the quarter finals after losing to China in five dramatic sets. The Chinese went on to take the gold medal - their third in the history of the Games - after knocking out the Netherlands in the semifinals and overwhelming Serbia (who had edged USA 3-2 in the other semifinal) in the final. The Americans did eventually manage a consolation bronze after beating the Dutch 3-1 for third place.