A Tale of Two Olympic Teams

I know a little something about volleyball. One thing I know is that if half your starting line-up is the same height as your libero, you’re at a disadvantage. Not only does a libero wear a different-coloured shirt, on a women’s volleyball team she’s often a foot or more shorter than the star attackers. But not on Team GB.

I watched two preliminary matches of women’s volleyball at Earls Court this week. After an appetizer of Serbia vs Turkey, with Turkey taking their first win of the tournament in three straight sets (my reminders to Serbia to back up the blockers and dig it out were no help), I was treated to a main course of the hometown team: Great Britain vs Italy.

My friend and I were excited to be watching volleyball in person—having played recreational volleyball together in another life, we love to watch the elites show us how it’s done.

When the Italian and British teams entered the arena, the height differential was obvious. Italy was tall. Not the tallest women’s volleyball players I’ve ever seen, but they would definitely turn heads on the street. The shocking thing was how tall Team GB was not. At least three of the starting line were virtually the same height as their defensive libero. Not a good sign.

The libero-sized Team GB at the Olympics Volleyball tournament, London, England

And then the warm-up began. Great Britain was energetic and plucky with hustle and great air (for short girls). But Italy made it look easy. A whole lot easier than Serbia and Turkey had in the previous match.

Team GB had won their first golds this day in rowing and cycling, and the excitement in the crowd should have been contagious. But the warm-up was worrisome.

I suspected that it would not end well for the hometown team at Earls Court, no matter how loudly we cheered.

Sadly, my suspicions were soon confirmed. When Italy had it right, they were unstoppable. Their defense wasn’t what it should have been, and more than once the lanky women faulted at the net. And while the tiny attackers on Team GB often displayed beautiful form and literally flew through the air, they were clearly out-matched. They lost the first set, but kept pace. So, I hoped the plucky Brits would take at least a set—they couldn’t win the match, but after the Turkey vs Serbia match lasted only three sets, I wanted to watch more ball! Unfortunately, shortly into the second set, I knew we’d be going home sooner rather than later.

A volleyball team in mid-play with an attacker in the air, ready to spike the ball.

GB-in-action at the Olympics Volleyball tournament.


It was only afterwards that I learned Italy is the number four team in the world and Great Britain comes in at 69—more than 50 places below any other team in the 12-team tourney (incidentally, Canada is ranked 22nd in the world, but didn’t win their Olympic qualifying matches).

Nevertheless, Team GB’s win against Algeria two nights before had inspired a sense of anticipation, and Italy’s too-frequent faults generated the whiff of possibility. And despite Great Britian’s inevitable loss, the atmosphere of excitement and enthusiasm at Earls Court, even among GB fans who didn’t really know the game, made the afternoon that much more Olympic.

This post originally appeared on Travel + Escape.


Team Turkey

Team Turkey

Digging it out in warm up

Warming up

Turkey’s jump serve!

Mopping the floor during Time Out


Serbia attacks

Team Serbia strikes again!

Italy is the 4th ranked team in the world!

GB at the net…I know how they feel!

Italy's front row

A top team’s front row

Back Set!