Host City: Atlanta, United States
Venue(s): Georgia Coliseum, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia; The Omni Coliseum, Atlanta, Georgia
Date Started: July 21, 1996
Date Finished: August 4, 1996
|Bronze:||Serbia and Montenegro|
In the now standard format, 12 teams competed, separated into two pools of six, followed by elimination and medal/placement matches. The qualifying teams were selected as follows: host nation (United States), World Cup (Italy, Netherlands, Brazil), Continental Qualifiers (Tunisia, Korea, Russia, Cuba, Argentina), and qualification tournaments (Serbia & Montenegro [Yugoslavia], Bulgaria, Poland).
The two dominant teams in the past four years had been Italy and the Netherlands. Italy had won the 1990 and 1994 World Championships and the 1993 and 1995 European Championships. But they had always been closely pushed by the Dutch team, silver medalists at the 1994 Worlds and both Europeans. The Netherlands had upset Italy in the quarter-finals at the 1992 Olympics and only a few weeks before the 1996 Olympics, defeated them in five sets in the final of the World League tournament in Rotterdam. In pool play, the two teams were drawn together in Group B, and Italy won their match easily in three sets. As expected, they both made it thru to the final, which was a titanic struggle. It went five sets, with the teams alternating set victories. The final set was very close, and Italy got to 15-14 and match point, but the Netherlands scored three straight points to win the gold medal, 17-15. All three medalists came out of Group B, as Serbia & Montenegro (Yugoslavia) defeated Russia in five sets to win the bronze medal, their ever volleyball medal. They missed their team captain, [Dejan Brđović], for several matches, including the bronze medal match, as he left the team after his son died from a brain tumor.
In 1985, the Dutch started a program unique in the Netherlands, in which the entire national team would train together, not playing in the standard Dutch competitions. Named after their base (the Bankras hall), the goal of the “Bankrasmodel” was to win Olympic gold in 1992. After some initial success (a surprising fifth-place in 1988), the team fell apart, with various players signing lucrative contracts abroad, and coach Arie Selinger leaving the team. They all rejoined for the Barcelona Games and, after a poor start, upset Italy and Cuba to win a silver medal. With a new coach (Joop Alberda), they became a consistent force, but always finished behind Italy, until the 1996 Olympics. In 1999, Dutch TV viewers elected the gold medal in Atlanta as the “sporting moment of the 20th century.”