BEIJING United States volleyball made it two-for-two at the Beijing Olympics, with the U.S. men following the lead of the U.S. women the day before with a thrilling semifinal victory Friday over Russia.
The only difference was the manner of victory, with the U.S. women sweeping Cuba to reach their gold-medal match Saturday, while the U.S. men needed to go a full five sets after taking a surprising 2-0 lead after the first two sets at Capital Gymnasium.
Score it 25-22, 25-21, 25-27, 22-25, 15-13 for the United States, who will now face Brazil in Sunday's gold-medal game. Brazil advanced following its four-set victory in Saturday's other semifinal over Italy, 19-2, 25-18, 25-21, 25-22.
Russia and Italy will play for the bronze.
"What a great time to finally beat Russia we haven't done it in a while," said U.S. middle blocker Ryan Millar.
The same could be said about being guaranteed no worse than a silver medal at these Olympics, given that the last U.S. men's volleyball medal- a bronze at that -came in 1992 in Barcelona.
For three-time Olympian Millar, it meant some redemption from an 11th-place finish at the 2000 Sydney Games and a fourth-place finish at the
2004 Athens Games.
"We've been around so long that we've seen everything," said Millar of the U.S. veteran players. "We've seen not getting out of our pool to getting out of pool and barely getting past the quarterfinals and then losing the bronze-medal match. And now we're going to the gold-medal match. We've got an amazing array of experience on this team."
Millar finished with 12 kills and two blocks, while teammate Reid Priddy posted 17 kills and Riley Salmon added 12. Clayton Stanley served seven aces, while two of David Lee's team-high three blocks came in the final points of the match.
In the opener, the U.S. rallied from a seemingly solid 14-11 Russia lead to take a 17-15 advantage behind back-to-back-to-back service aces by Stanley. From there, the Russians led only once briefly as the Americans scored the next three straight points en route to the 25-22 first-set win.
In the second, Russia erased another pair of Stanley aces to open the second to take commanding leads of 8-5 and 16-13, with the U.S. staying close and eventually regaining the lead at 22-21.
On the ensuing point, Russia's kill attempt sailed through U.S. arms and wide out of play, with referee Osamu Sakaide and other officials ruling the ball hadn't touched an American, giving the U.S. a 23-21 lead.
However, replays showed the ball in fact did touch a U.S. player, meaning Russia deserved a 22-all tie on the play. But Russia didn't receive that point nor score the rest of the way in a 25-21 U.S. second-set win.
In the third, Russia burst off to substantial three- and four-point leads throughout before its first set-point try at 24-22. But the Russians needed to outlast a determined U.S. squad, who fought off three set points before falling 27-25.
The fourth was the least suspenseful of the five sets, with the United States taking only a brief lead at 6-5 before Russia going up by two and three points soon and sustaining while going on to a 25-22 victory.
"It was about weathering the inevitable storm that coming at us once we were up 2-0," said U.S. libero Rich Lambourne of the Russian rally to tie it at 2-2.
Millar agreed: "After the first two sets, they really turned it on and we had to give it all we had."
In the back-and-forth fifth, the U.S. led 6-3 but then was down a point or two before tying it at 12-all. Two blocks by Lee and a Lee kill pushed the final points in the 15-13 victory.