The U.S. women’s volleyball team captured the biggest title in program history Sunday, beating China 27-25, 25-20, 16-25, 26-24 in the World Championship gold-medal game in Milan.
The Americans won their first major international championship after three previous Olympic silver medals (1984, 2008, 2012), two World Championship silver medals (1967, 2002) and one World Cup silver medal (2011). They’ve gone 50 years with zero Olympic golds and broke a 62-year World Championship drought.
They are coached by Karch Kiraly, a two-time Olympic indoor volleyball champion and 1996 Olympic beach volleyball champion.
“We came here to make history,” an emotional Kiraly said on court on Universal Sports. “The USA was due. I kept saying it. I know we’re going to win one of these. I don’t know if it’s 100 years from now or today. I told the team there’s just been this obstacle, this wall, but I could feel it cracking between us and that goal, and that gold, that color. I could feel it like the Berlin Wall. It was cracking and fracturing. We just had to keep hurling ourselves, as a team, at that wall, until we burst it down.”
Kiraly compared this title with the Olympic gold medals he won as a player.
“I don’t feel much different, actually, to be a part of an effort like this,” he said.
Kim Hill was named tournament MVP and best spiker. Alisha Glass was named best setter.
Captain Christa Dietzen celebrated not only the team gold but also her 28th birthday Sunday.
“I constantly think about how this is bigger than us,” said Dietzen, a 2012 Olympic silver medalist who underwent knee surgery in December. “I think it represents the past players of USA Volleyball and everybody that has built this program from the bottom up. And it represents the present players, and not just the 14 of us who are here, but all 25 to 40 of us who have come through the gym this summer and made each other better.”
The U.S., ranked No. 2 in the world, shocked top-ranked Brazil in a semifinal sweep Saturday to set the final with China, ranked fifth. Brazil, which beat the U.S. in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic finals, downed Italy for bronze earlier Sunday.
Olympic qualification tournaments start in 2015 for nations to join host Brazil at Rio 2016.
Rio Olympic indoor volleyball final tickets are tied for the priciest of any sport. The World Championship is held once every four years, meaning the U.S. kept Brazil from claiming the biggest global title before its home Olympics.
“I think it’s just set the tone [going toward the Olympics], and I think it’s built our confidence,” Dietzen said. “But we still have a lot of business and a lot of work to do. But I think it’s made us hungrier.”
Poland did the same in the men’s World Championship that it hosted three weeks ago. The U.S. men, who have won three Olympic titles, were seventh there.
The U.S. lost its final match to Brazil at the last four Olympics.
“We know, two years from now, the headwinds will be great in Rio,” Kiraly said on Universal Sports. “Brazil will have the home-court advantage. We love headwinds. Bring ’em on.”
NBC Olympics researcher Amanda Doyle contributed reporting from Milan.