Host City: Atlanta, United States
Venue(s): The Omni Coliseum, Atlanta, Georgia
Date Started: July 20, 1996
Date Finished: August 3, 1996
Format: Round-robin pools advanced teams to classification matches.
For the first time, the women's tournament consisted of 12 teams, separated into two pools of six, followed by medal elimination matches. The teams were selected as follows: host nation (United States), World Cup (Cuba, Brazil, China), Continental Qualifiers (Korea, Canada, Germany, Peru), and qualifying tournaments (Russia, Japan, Netherlands, Ukraine)
Cuba was easily the best team in the world. They had won the 1992 Olympic gold medal and the 1994 World Championships, and every other tournament they entered in the interim. But they were fortunate to get out of group play, losing two matches, and finishing only third in Group B behind Brazil and Russia. In the quarter-finals they were drawn against their arch-rival, the United States, and crushed them – 1, 10, and 12. The semi-finals saw Cuba play Brazil, who had defeated them very easily in straight sets in their group. This match was much closer, going five sets, with Cuba winning 15-12 in the fifth. In the final, Cuba faced China, World Champions in 1982 and 1986. China's female volleyball fortunes had fallen off considerably since then, but they had replaced their coach with former star player [Lang Ping]. This seemed to be the boost they needed and they reached the final undefeated. China won the first set of the final, 16-14, but Cuba came back to win the next three sets and the gold medal. The medal ceremony was tainted by booing and whistling from the American crowd when Cuba was awarded their gold medals.