The reason winning a gold medal is so exhilarating is because it is so difficult to achieve. Not only do you have to be good enough compared to the rest of the world who is desperately trying to achieve the same thing, but you also need to withstand the circus that is the Olympics and you need a bit of luck.
Sadly, it is over for the USA Men’s Volleyball Team. We were the team most consistently performing team, but it came to a halt in the quarterfinals versus Italy. Italy is definitely one of the 5 best teams in the world, but it was not having a great Games–until Wednesday night. Italy stepped it up while USA couldn’t find a rhythm, especially after the 1st set.
It’s amazing how everything changes after one match. The experience of the Games turns on a moment, from dreams pursued to dreams dashed. For the athletes and coaches, but especially for the athletes and the head coach, facing the press, walking back into the locker room after that match, facing family and friends, and returning to the Village, is a lonely and painful process. The next morning it surges back into cold reality. Time helps heal the wounds of disappointment, but it’s difficult now.
Before our match with Italy you see how the atmosphere of the Games changes. The first week is full of hope and optimistic joy, but that changes fairly quickly. Once events finish, after years of strict dedication to the goal, there is a mixture of athletes cutting loose, some despondent and depressed, and many just relieved that it’s over. Our team joins the ranks of Olympic purgatory, in limbo, trying to enjoy the time with family and friends, but the luster is off and there is a strong desire to leave it behind and get home.
I have had the distinct privilege of being with this team at different stages during the past 4 years, and with some of these athletes, like Clay Stanley, Reid Priddy, Rich Lambourne, Donald Suxho, and David McKienzie, for more than a decade.
There are two others who just barely missed the cut to be here in London, Ryan Millar and Riley Salmon, whose presence I have missed. I remember the first days with all of these national team players. I am blessed to have been associated with them and cherish the friendships that I have with them. I walked into the gym at BYU in 1997 as a volunteer assistant to Carl McGown, and there were Ryan Millar, Rich Lambourne, and Hugh McCutcheon. I never dreamed that the subsequent 15 years would have brought so many wonderful memories with them.
The sporting world can be cruel, not just when you lose, but when you are left off the Olympic roster. If Ryan and Riley’s careers are over, it’s a shame they don’t get a farewell tour in front of the thousands of fans who have had the pleasure of watching them represent USA. They, and others, played a critical role in the resurgence of USA Volleyball’s superiority. In this sport in particular, it is unlikely any of these players will get the final recognition they deserve.
I am proud of this team, and fortunate to have shared this and many other experiences with them. They are experiences that I will remember fondly.
Our disappointment is lessened by the success of our women’s team. We are proud of them and are pulling for them to bring home the Gold tomorrow!