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Last Updated: Monday, 28 June 2004, 07:57 GMT 08:57 UK
Volleyball emerges from Soviet shadow
USSR and USA in action at the 1988 Olympics
The USA beat the Soviet Union to win gold in Seoul in 1988
Volleyball was invented in 1895 as a hybrid of tennis and basketball.

The game, first referred to as 'Mintonette', was the brainchild of American William G. Morgan and spread to Europe and around the world during the Great War.

It became an officially recognised sport after the Second World War when the International Federation was founded and, having been played as a demonstration sport at the 1924 Olympics, was granted full status at the 1964 Tokyo Games.

Unlike many sports, both men and women started competing at the same time, and it was the Soviet Union that dominated affairs in each discipline.

Both teams won medals in every Olympics between 1964 and 1988, the 1984 Los Angeles boycott apart.

Their haul included seven golds and in that period the men's team lost only six of their 43 outings, with the Soviet women going down on a mere three occasions in 33 matches.

The only country to have beaten the Soviet women in that period was Japan, the other powerhouse of the game in the 1960s and 70s.

The Japanese won the inaugural gold against the Soviet Union at home in 1964 and repeated the feat in 1976. They also won the opening match between the nations in 1988.

Volleyball has some strict rules of etiquette and players exchange small gifts before international games
More recently the Cubans have dominated the women's event, winning a hat-trick of golds, although only once have they gone through a tournament unbeaten, in 1992.

They are notoriously slow starters, losing to Russia in each of the last two pool stages, but have come through at the business end of the tournament.

The men's tournament has historically been far more open, with the 10 golds shared among seven nations.

Since the Soviet Union's back-to-back wins in the first two tournaments, only the USA have successfully defended the title, with victory in a classic Cold War battle in 1988.

Japan and Poland took gold in the 70s with the Soviet Union winning in Moscow in 1980, before the USA won consecutive campaigns.

The last three titles have been won by Brazil, the Netherlands and most recently Yugoslavia.

MEDAL TABLE (Since 1964; top five)
Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
Soviet Union 3 2 1 6
USA 2 0 1 3
Japan 1 1 1 3
Brazil 1 1 0 2
The Netherlands 1 1 0 2
Soviet Union 4 3 0 7
Cuba 3 0 0 3
Japan 2 2 1 5
China 1 1 1 3
USA 0 1 1 2

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