It's 1996, it's in the United States, to be precise it's in Atlanta, Georgia, it's the Summer Olympics. Just imagine yourself being Donovan Bailey, the Canadian sprinter. You're like the Usain Bolt of the 1990s, maybe a bit less talented, but you're good and you run a new world record in less than 10 seconds and take the gold. That's what he did in this Olympics. Maybe some of you remember Carl Lewis. At this Olympics he won his 4th gold medal at the long jump. Absolutely very impressive, but there was also an American swimmer named Amy Van Dyken who won four gold medals during one Olympics, this one, here in Atlanta. Futhermore it was the Olympics in which five of the Nigerian Super Eagles from 1994 won the gold medal in the soccer/football competition. But you're right, this post is about volleyball, so let's go to that...
No guys, this post is not going to be about sexy volleyball girls. If you want that, feel free to have a look by clicking at the source of the photo above.
The footage that I'm describing below is the end the 1996 Olympics. It's the last day and one of the last medals to be decided. The score is 13-13, Italy and the Netherlands are side by side in the Olympic Volleyball final, not just in the first set, no this is already the fifth set. Three hours ago the teams started the match and both of them managed to win two sets each. So it is 13-13, the first team to reach 15 points will be Olympic champion, but only if they have a 2-point advantage, otherwise play will continue. Everybody expects Italy to do what they always do, they win, and they win in a final against The Netherlands. At least, that is what happened in 1993 during the European Championship, in 1994 during the World Championship and also in 1995 at the next European Championship. On the positive side, there were two occasions in which the Dutch actually came away with the win. Four years ago, during the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona (where they won the silver medal after losing the final against Brazil) in the quarter final, the other occassion being a couple of weeks before this Olympic tournament. In Rotterdam during the final of the World League the Dutch finally did it, also in 5 sets, final score that set 22-20. The question is if they could do it again, so soon after the final in Rotterdam. After all the teams already met in Atlanta in the group stage and then Italy was way too strong, winning in three straight sets.
What you need to know is that back in the days you could only score a point when your team was serving, with the exception of the fifth set, in which they played in the current format, meaning every score is a point. From 4-4 on, The Netherlands was always one point ahead, after which the Italians equalised, until we reached 13-13. This is the moment where the decision is going to be made. Both teams are only two points away from the win.
The tension is rising and set up specialist Peter Blangé passes the ball on onto center forward Bas van de Goor. The man is tall, almost reaching 2 metres and 10 centimeters above the ground. When such a man jumps high in the air and uses his force and power to strike a ball onto the side of the net, that can go fast and fast it went. The Italians had no chance and The Netherlands are leading 14-13. The Netherlands are now one point away from becoming Olympic champion, but only if they do it now. Coach Joop Alberda knows what to do and that is to use one of his last two substitute options of the match. He takes key player Ron Zwerver and replaces him with Jan Postuma. Posthuma is known to be one of the best blockers in the world. He's been playing in the Italian Serie A league for the last 5 seasons and was crowned best blocker in each of these years. He would know how to stop these Italians from scoring and to give the Dutch the Olympic title.
Guido Görtzen is at serve, not taking any risks. There's no jumping serve, just a weak floating ball to the other side of the net, to make sure Posthuma gets his chance to block the super spiker Lollo Bernardi. Of course that is where the ball went, it was inevitable, Bernardi had to do it and Bernardi did it. His spike hit the arm of Van de Goor and there was no option for Posthuma to block that ball. The score is equal again, this time 14-14. We know now that the 15th point is not going to be enough.
Coach Alberda uses his last substitute option, taking Posthuma out, bringing Zwerver back into the game. The Italians serve and just like two points before Blangé sets up Van de Goor for a spike, but this time the ball does not end up on the floor. The Italians save it and have the chance to set up their match point. The ball goes to Andrea Giani who has no mercy and delivers the first matchpoin to the Squadra Azzurri. Now it is Paolo Tofoli to serve, he is the Italian set-up specialist. Görtzen saves the ball, passes on to Blangé, who again sets up Van de Goor, who had to come from the back of the pitch to beat the Italian defence with a devastating spike. The Netherlands is level again, 15-15.
Bas van de Goor to serve, Tofoli to set up Giani to bring the Italians ahead again. Unsuccessful this time and Olof van der Meulen gets the chance to put The Netherlands ahead again. His spike was saved by the Italian defense and went straight back over the net and seemed to land in the back of the pitch on the Dutch side, but the ball was saved in a reflex by Bas van de Goor, who managed to get the ball back to Van der Meulen. A second chance for him to put the Dutch ahead again, but again the Italian defence saves. The ball ends up at Guido Görtzen who reaches Henk-Jan Held who sets up Ron Zwerver who spikes the ball onto Samuele Papi's body. The Netherlands is in front again 16-15, matchpoint!
The service of Van de Goor was not handled very well by the Italians who had no choice other than simply putting the ball over the net to the Dutch side again. This gave Peter Blangé the chance to easily set up the attack. He had the idea to give Ron Zwerver the decisive ball. Zwerver spikes the ball to the other side of the net, Vigor Bovolenta still manages to save it, delivers the ball to Tofoli who has the chance to set up Giani with a good chance to equalise again. He hits the ball a little to hard, forcing Giani too far to the side and when he spikes the ball he hits the antenna to the side of the net. The rally and the point gets awarded to The Netherlands and the ultimate dream of Dutch volleyball became reality 17-15.
Match highlights of the footage described above
The Bankras Project
It all started eleven years before this historic moment in Atlanta. The Dutch national volleyball federation had hired a coach from Israel, named Arie Selinger. The federation gave Selinger the task to develop the Dutch national team in such a way that it would become part of the world's best volleyball teams. In order to do so Selinger created the Bankras Project. The project was named after a sporting hall in the city of Amstelveen named the Bankrashal.
One of the minimum standards of the project was that if you were to be selected for the Dutch national team, you would give up on your club career. The idea behind that was that this way all players could focus entirely on the Dutch squad in the aim to become the best of the world. The goal that Selinger set for himself was a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. The project was supposed to last seven years and then to see if the ultimate dream could come true. However after four years, and three years before the Barcelona Olympics Selinger accepted an offer from Japan and thus left The Netherlands behind him. This was the moment for certain players (Peter Blangé, Ronald Zoodsma and Jan Posthuma) to quit the project and to refocus on their club careers again. All three ended up in the Italian Serie A. Some of the other players in the project that continued were unhappy with the rebellious players and if it was up to them they would have never been allowed back at a later stage.
That situation became problematic the moment NeVoBo (The Dutch volleyball federation) lost faith in caretaker Harrie Brokkin. Selinger returned from Japan and took over again. One of the first things Selinger did was to get the rebellious players back into the squad, which angered some of the other players. Despite the turbulence the final of the 1992 Olympics is reached, but Brazil was too strong to fulfill the awaited dream and goal of the team that was nicknamed "The Wonderful Six" at that stage. It was the end of the project and most players found a club in Italy after the Olympics.
Now that every player in the team had a club career besides representing the national team the tension between the players disappeared. As described above the Dutch reached the finals of European and Wold Championships in 1993, 1994 and 1995 and all of these finals were lost against Italy. When Joop Alberda became the coach the goal was achieved four years later
The design of the shirts was symbolic for the mission. Orange being the national colour of the Netherlands (after the last name of the royal family "Van Oranje" (from Orange)). The golden flames on the shirt represented the Olympic flame and the golden medal they wanted to win.
Business over friendship
It was clear that the players in the team were no friends. The tension created when some players left the Bankras Project was just part of that. Wat the players had to understand however was that they were not playing volleyball to be friends, but to be able to play outstanding volleyball together and to win a gold medal at the Olympics. Alberda had the ability to show the players the importance of that and created a unique team that contained a perfect combination of length, speed, theoritical and tactical insight, as well as the right understanding of the motivation to achieve the goal.
Ron Zwerver, the star player of the team, who was hardly ever understood, but with Alberda on his side his thoughts and ideas were a key factor for the success of the team.
Olof van der Meulen, a happy and outgoing personality who had the task to keep the good atmosphere in the dressing room and to convert the most difficult (garbage balls) into scoring opportunities or into direct points.
Peter Blangé, the unique and creative set-up specialist and captain of the team.
The almost unbeatable center attack existing of Bas van de Goor and Henk-Jan Held.
The attacking style of play had similarities with the "Total Football" the Dutch national football (soccer) team was playing in the 1970s. The term "Total Volleyball" has been mentioned multiple times.
From time to time new players were introduced like Guido Görtzen, a young talent with a devistating spike in his arm. The experience in the team came from Jan Posthuma and Rob Grabert.
The team became very popular in the Netherlands these days, getting a lot of airtime, not just by broadcasting their matches on television, but players and coach were often seen in television shows. Other sportspeople in the Netherlands saw them as an example.
The popularity of the team resulted in five Dutch Sportsteam of the Year awards. In 1999 the win of the Olympic tournament in Atlanta was chosen as the Dutch sports moment of the century. Besides the above mentioned players also Bas van de Goor's brother Mike van de Goor was part of the squad. Other names not yet mentioned in this article are Misha Latuhihin, Brecht Rodenburg and Richard Schuil who had a great career in beach volleyball as well together with Reinder Nummerdor.
Hall of fame entry
This is my entry into @liuke96player's Hall of fame contest. Here is the link to this weeks contest: Scorum Hall of Fame Week 4
Thank you for reading this article and I hope you learned something about this amazing team, background and their performance.