Americans run out of gas, stall vs. Russia, lose bronze

`We may have left it all out there' in quarterfinal win over Greece

Men's Volleyball

Athens Olympics -- 2004

August 30, 2004|By Bill Dwyre | Bill Dwyre,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ATHENS - As it turns out, the huge finish by the U.S. men's volleyball team Wednesday night against Greece was exactly that. A finish. The U.S. men lost the next two matches in straight sets, including yesterday's Olympic bronze-medal game against Russia.

"We got to such a crescendo in that game against Greece," said American captain Lloy Ball, "that we may have left it all out there that night. We never seemed to have recovered."

The U.S. team had done the seemingly impossible in that quarterfinal against the Greeks, rallying from two sets to one and 20-12 in the fourth set, as well as 12-9 in the fifth set. But that apparently used up their allotment of miracles for these Games. They never won a set after that, going quickly to Brazil in three sets in the semifinals Friday night and folding in the third set of Russia's 25-22, 27-25, 25-16 win yesterday.

"This one leaves a bad taste in our mouths," said Ryan Millar. "Maybe it is something we can use in 2008. Maybe we'll fight harder in Bejing."

One U.S. player who won't be around for that, after being the inspirational leader of this team for the past three Olympics, is Ball. At 32, he will retire from the national team, having played 366 international matches, and he said he will do so with mixed emotions.

"It was our last match of the Olympics," he said, "and if you win your last match, you usually get to take home a present. But no present for us."

But he did find satisfaction in the progress U.S. men's volleyball - a gold-medal winner in Los Angeles and Seoul and a bronze medalist in Barcelona - has made since its ninth-place finish in Atlanta and 11th-place finish in Sydney.

"At Sydney," Ball said, "I think we had a mental breakdown. It was a team that had more physicality than this one, but it lacked heart. This team had more collective heart, even though we lost the last two matches.

"I don't think we had great expectations going in here. Mostly, it was just to get out of the pool. If you had given me a final-four spot coming in, I would have grabbed that in a New York second."

On Russia's set point in the second, Ball was ruled to have made illegal contact with the ball against the net, meaning point and set to Russia.

Ball argued with the official on the net stand and was both angry and direct with his thoughts.

"This is our livelihood, this is our dream," he said. "To have that taken away from you by somebody who rules, well..."

In the gold-medal game, Brazil, shut out of men's Olympic volleyball medals since it won the gold in Barcelona in 1992, made it back to the top of the platform, winning the title match over Italy, 25-15, 24-26, 25-20, 25-22. Italy had taken bronze in Sydney and silver in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

The only loss for Brazil during the Athens Olympics was a four-setter to the United States, late in pool play, in a game in which U.S. coach Doug Beal criticized the Brazilian team for not playing all out and apparently seeking to position itself in the medal round.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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