Russia Avenges Qualification Loss
ATLANTA (AP) _ Russia had to come out of Africa to get to Atlanta. Once here, it made Germany pay for a women’s volleyball upset back in December.
Russia breezed past Germany 15-5, 15-10, 15-7 in Saturday’s opening Olympic session. China also dominated, beating the Netherlands 15-10, 15-5, 15-7 as it continued to rebuild after two big disappointments earlier this decade.
In Athens, Ga., defending gold medalist Cuba routed Canada 15-8, 15-8, 15-5.
Germany defeated the favored Russians in the European Zone qualification tournament in December. Because the African Zone qualifier had only two teams in it, Russia was sent there to play, beating Nigeria and Kenya.
Since that loss to the Germans seven months ago, the Russians changed passers and got back some star players from winter leagues.
``I think our attack became faster,″ coach Nikolai Karpol said. ``It’s more interesting when we play this way.″
Also, three standouts returned after having children.
``They made a gift to their families. Now they play volleyball,″ Karpol said, drawing a smirk from setter Marina Nikoulina, mother of two.
With Nikoulina running an efficient offense, Irina Ilchenko had a match-high 23 kills and Evguenia Artamonova had 18. Artamonova rounded out an impressive match with four stuff blocks and two service aces. She served on match point and put down the final spike.
Russia’s roster includes players who helped the Soviet Union win the 1988 gold medal and the Unified Team win bronze in 1992. This is Russia’s first Summer Olympics as its own entity.
Germany, playing under one flag for the first time in Olympic volleyball competition, got 16 kills from Nancy Celis.
China, led by Sun Yue’s 17 kills, took early leads in the first two sets. The Netherlands didn’t take its first lead until 5-4 of the third set, but China quickly regained control and pulled away, winning the final two points on Cui Yongmei’s serve.
Bronze medalists in Seoul in 1988, the Chinese finished seventh out of eight teams in Barcelona, then were eighth in the 1994 World Cup. Coach Lang Ping was hired and her regrouped team finished third at the 1995 World Cup to qualify for Atlanta.
``We had very good preparation,″ said Lang, star of China’s 1984 women’s
gold medal team. ``We studied them a lot because they are really tall.″
Said Dutch middle blocker Cintha Boersma: ``We got irritated because China defended every ball. We began to hit harder and make lots of mistakes.″