MORAGA, Calif. - Saint Mary's women's volleyball head coach Rob Browning is serving as team manager for the USA men's volleyball Olympic Team in London. Here is a recent blog from coach Browning as the men's volleyball team aims for gold in London.
August 9, 2012
The Games Go On Without Us
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!
P.S. I hope I get to see Patty and Delly one more time before we leave. How proud I was to watch them play so well against the USA the other night.
August 6, 2012
Let the Games Begin
The preliminary round is over and it's time for the "win or go home" quarterfinal matches. The winners of those 4 matches are guaranteed to be playing for Gold or Bronze on the last day of the Olympics.
By far the biggest surprise of the tournament has been Bulgaria. We played them in the World League finals in early July and their team was in disarray because after the European Olympic Qualifier their head coach was fired/quit (depends on whose side you believe) and their best player and setter quit. They did not play very well and ended up losing the 3rd place match to Cuba.
It is apparent that between then and now they've figured some things out. They cruised past Great Britain, upset Poland-arguably the best team in the world-in the 2nd match of the tournament, then beat Australia, who barely lost to Italy and also upset Poland today, before they finally lost a match, in 4 to Argentina. An hour ago they won the group with another surprising victory, this time over Italy.
So that group has been in upheaval. Had Italy won today they would have won the group, but now they are 4th, making them our opponent in the quarterfinals Wednesday. Bulgaria finished first and will play Germany, the 4th place team from our group.
Later tonight after the last match they will have the drawing of lots to determine who will play who between the 2nd and 3rd place teams from each group. They do this to prevent throwing matches to get a desirable crossover.
August 6, 2012
Our last preliminary round match starts in an hour versus Tunisia. If you saw Tunisia play you would see that they are much better than their 0-4 record indicates. They have a few players who can unload on the ball and they are scrappy on defense. They play hard all the time and certainly play as if they have nothing to lose-which they don't at this point.
Today we went to practice at our USOC facility which is right across the street from the Leyton Orient Football Club, a 3rd division team in England. It's a nice set up with an FIVB regulation court with the official flooring. Boxing and archery are also sharing, so we are careful not to pick any fights. (Initially we thought that archery would be training during our practices with their targets on the other side of our court from where they were shooting, but the USOC identified that problem early on and put the kibosh on it. That's not the kind of cross training we are looking for.)
After practice we were back in the Village for a video session, then the boys had about 4 hours to rest before departing for the match.
Tune in for USA vs. Tunisia!
August 4, 2012
A Day in the Life of the USA Men's Olympic Volleyball Team
Most of us grab something at the Grab-and-Go stand right in front of the USA housing area. This convenient setup is new to the Olympic Village area. Before if you wanted food the only place to get it was the main dining hall, which meant getting there (it has not been very close to USA housing the previous 3 Olympics), checking your bags, and making your way through the enormous dining hall.
The Grab-and-Go has yogurt parfaits, fruit, danish, coffee and other beverages.
Because Chris Jackson, Ron Larsen, and Andy Read are scouting every match of the Olympics, they leave early and get back after midnight every night. Some game days we won't see them except when we are at the venue for our match. They put in long, long hours scouting opponents!
Our USOC shuttle takes us to one of two training venues that the USOC has established. These training venues are amazing. Since Athens the USOC has procured sites that allow Team USA to train on their own schedule with state-of-the-art equipment, sports medicine facilities, dining, meeting space, etc.
The best thing about these sites is the USOC personnel who support the athletes and coaches in every possible way. They are the ones who work tirelessly behind the scenes to help ensure USA's success at each Olympic Games, summer and winter.
10:00 to 11:00am Light Practice
During the competition these practices are loosely structured and vary in degree of reps and activity. The guys who have been playing a lot won't take a lot of swings, and a few might not do anything on the court at all. The guys are professionals and they have a very good idea of what they need in order to get them ready to perform at their highest level for the match.
11:00am Video Session
We watched video of Brazil vs. Russia, which Brazil won in 3 straight. Video sessions often consist of watching the opponent by rotation. We watch all of their service receptions in Rotation 1 to see what their tendencies are when they are in that rotation, then move on to Ro 2 through 6. We also might watch specific attackers and other situations.
12:00 noon Lunch back at the Village.
A few days into our stay here I was out for a bike ride when I came upon the BBQ area. This is also new to the Village and let me tell you it is a welcome change from the main dining hall!
The conspiracy theorist in me tells me that Team Great Britain and the other Eastern "Village People" wanted to keep it a secret from the rest of the village. When I first went there it was almost all Team GB, Russia, Belarus, and Aussies.
Upon entering the area I felt like a party crasher. I kept looking over my shoulder for someone to come up and say "this not for you!" I tried to blend in, but the large U-S-A on my back gave me away.
They ultimately took me in, fed me chicken shwarma, and got me to join in beer drinking songs-without the beer. It was straight out of the Oom Pah Pah scene from Oliver (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkk2-2u3ciE) with dancing and jollity. All the while I kept looking over my shoulder for a Bill Sikes-like character to ruin the party, but there is no spoiling the cultural unifying force that is the international BBQ!
Never underestimate the power of a good nap-especially for the athletes.
5:00 Bus to Earls Court
We congregate just inside the Transport Mall so that we can be escorted to our bus, which will take us to our competition venue: Earls Court. The ride is approximately an hour, which is not ideal, but at least it has been fairly consistent. One of the issues with London vehicle transportation is there are few great freeways from one side of town to the other. Our route takes us directly by Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abby, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, and the Thames. I keep thinking someone ought to get on the microphone and narrate the tour. So while it's not a short ride, it is certainly scenic.
6:45 Pre-game Meeting
Alan reviews the game plan with the team in the locker room. The game plan is put together by our amazing staff of the aforementioned Chris, Ron, and Andy, and Alan Knipe, John Speraw, Mike Sealy and Gary Sato. They put in very long hours and detailed attention to put the game plan together. They know the teams we are playing quite well already, but they leave no stone unturned in preparing our team for their opponent. USA Volleyball teams have a world-renowned reputation for outstanding scouting reports going all the way back to the Doug Beal, Bill Neville, Carl McGown and Marv Dunphy days, and our current staff continues to uphold that reputation.
7:00pm Warm-up Court
There are two very nice warm-up courts adjacent to the locker rooms. Each team takes their court to begin warming up before taking the main court.
7:43pm Teams Stage to take the Court
The two teams line up outside the warm-up courts to then be paraded to the final staging area before walking out to be introduced to the 12,000 spectators.
7:45pm Teams Take the Court
The teams are introduced and take the court to begin the official warm-up.
8:00pm Beat Brazil
I hope you got to see the match!!
10:00pm Post-match interviews, drug testing, and family time
The media coverage at the Olympics is massive. The players and coaches are in high demand as everyone is trying to get the story that will attract readers and viewers.
After a late match like last night, the players have about 15 minutes to see their family members before Alan addresses the team in the locker room.
Usually one player from each team will be randomly selected for drug testing. This could take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour or more, depending on the hydration level of the athlete. Until he goes, nobody goes.
11:00pm Bus back to the Village
12 midnight Late Night Dining
The main dining hall is open 24/7. It's not at full tilt, but there are still hundreds of athletes and officials dining til the wee hours. The team will often find itself eating dinner not far from that night's opponent, as was the case last night.
Today the team will rest and recover with some light exercise and a video session at 9pm to prepare for our next opponent: Russia!
August, 1, 2012
Off to a very good start with 3-0 wins over Serbia and Germany-two very good teams that our team was able to make look average at times. Our next test comes against Brazil, who beat Russia in 3 straight yesterday. We are the two undefeated teams in our group now.
If you watched our match yesterday against Germany you saw some unbelievable defensive plays by our team. The boys scrapped and turned potential scrambles into attack situations that we converted at a high percentage. We played great volleyball!
Today we board a USOC shuttle to the High Performance Training Center, a USOC operation at the University of East London, Docklands campus. Since Athens the USOC has made agreements with universities to upgrade and use their facilities for our athletes. It enables our athletes to train at the times they want and need with all the amenities and resources that make a big difference in helping USA athletes be prepared to perform at their very best.
Later today USA Volleyball is hosting a reception for all USAV family and friends of athletes. It is at the USA House, which is a swanky set up at the Royal College of Art Kensington, right next to Royal Albert Hall.
Later tonight the team will watch video of Brazil and they will be ready to go for tomorrow.
Be sure to watch the women's team play China tonight (or whatever time it will show in the US). I watched them play Brazil the other night-first time I had watched them play in person this quad-and was duly impressed. They are a force!