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Women’s World Cup: Twelve teams compete to succeed Italy

 
Lausanne, Switzerland, August 12, 2015 - The inaugural edition of the FIVB Volleyball Women's World Cup took place in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1973, eight years after the first similar competition for men. The Soviet Union dominated the ten-team competition, defeating Japan 3-0 to claim the title without dropping a single set. Silver medallists Japan, however, have hosted what is the second oldest FIVB competition ever since.
 
This was the first of two major transitions and it proved to be a great success. Since then, the proud volleyball nation has hosted the competition regularly and gone on to be the only team to have competed at every tournament, joined by Korea in the women’s event. “The World Cup plays an integral role in the Olympic qualification process and is a very important tournament for volleyball. One of volleyball’s most famous tournaments is staged in one of the sport’s most popular countries,” said FIVB President Dr. Ary S. Graça F°. The World Cup is historically the second most prestigious tournament on the international volleyball calendar behind the FIVB Volleyball World Championships.

A second significant change in the history of the competition explains this importance. In 1991, the International Volleyball Federation decided to change its format, holding the tournament in the year preceding and not following the Olympic Games. The World Cup became an Olympic Games qualification event prior to the 1992 Barcelona Games, guaranteeing the winners an Olympic berth. It has retained that role ever since, with the number of Olympic qualification berths increasing to three in 1995 ahead of the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. In this year’s FIVB World Cups for women (August 22-September 6) and men (September 8-23) two tickets per gender are up for grabs for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

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Japan’s women won their only FIVB Volleyball World Cup title in 1977. The event was front-page news and roughly 30 million viewers sat glued to their television sets every night, watching the matches. 48.1 per cent of televisions were switched on during the clash between Asian rivals Japan and Korea. Japan won to complete a hat-trick of major titles, having previously triumphed at the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship in 1974 and the 1976 Olympic Games.

This was to be the last major success for the Japanese, however, as other nations began to dominate the international volleyball scene. Even in 1977, it was apparent to many that the fourth-placed Chinese team would be the dominant force in years to come – and they went on to prove this with success in 1981 and 1985. A 3-2 victory over the USA women in 1981 caught the imagination of an entire nation, while the 3-2 success against Japan on the final day of the tournament brought traffic to a standstill in Beijing. The win triggered wild celebrations and top Chinese players “Jenny” Lang Ping, Sun Jinfang and Zhang Rongfang became national heroes.

In 1985, there were already signs of another shift in power at the FIVB Women’s World Cup. Cuba finished runners-up behind China, and the powerful ladies from the Caribbean, including an 18-year-old Mireya Luis, promptly became the crowd's favourites. They went on to dominate for an entire decade: between 1989 and 1999 the “Morenas del Caribe” ruled the volleyball world and won four World Cup titles in a row. They remain the most successful nation in the history of this competition. The likes of Mireya Luis and Regla Torres also won three Olympic and three world titles in a row.

Cuban dominance was brought to an end in 2001 by China, who claimed their third title and lead the list of medal winners with seven medals in total (three gold, three bronze and one silver). The winners of the last two FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Cups, in 2007 (pictured below)

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and 2011, were Italy. “I am really happy because we have won this very important competition two times in a row,” said Italy coach Massimo Barbolini at the time. “Returning to win after four years is really something that makes me very proud. This is a very difficult tournament.” Italy are absent this year, but the most successful nations so far will be in action: Cuba and China. Who will come out on top in 2015?

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