Host City: Athina, Greece
Venue(s): Peace and Friendship Stadium, Faliro Coastal Zone Olympic Complex, Faliro
Date Started: August 14, 2004
Date Finished: August 28, 2004
Format: Round-robin pools advanced teams to classification matches.
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 (Greece), World Cup (China, Brazil, United States), Continental qualifiers (Germany, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Kenya), and qualifying tournaments (Japan, Korea, Russia, Italy).
China had been the best women's team in the 80s, while Cuba was dominant thru the 90s, winning three straight Olympic gold medals. But the tournament in 2004 was fairly open. The 2002 World Champions were Italy, Poland won the 2003 Europeans, and China won the 2003 World Cup. Brazil had been runner-up in the 2003 World Cup, and joined Cuba and China in the semi-finals, where they were joined by Russia, perennially on the podium at major events, including winning the 2001 Europeans.
In the first semi-final, Brazil won the first two sets over Russia, but Russia came back to win in five. In the other semi, China won the first two sets, Cuba won the third and fourth sets, but China came back to win the fifth set and end the Cuba gold medal streak. The final matched Russia and China and it again went to five sets, China winning 15-12 in the fifth. This was a great match, similar to the 1988 final. The Chinese lost the first two sets narrowly (2 points), then won the third. They were down 21-23 in the fourth (one point away from match point), but won 25-23, and then won the final set 15-12. The United States and Italy, the 2002 World Championship finalists, were both surprisingly eliminated in the quarter-finals.