Max Holt

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U.S. men’s volleyball extends medal streak with bronze in World Cup

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With its medal-winning streak in jeopardy, the defending champion U.S. men’s volleyball team beat Egypt 22-25, 25-16, 25-14, 25-13 on Tuesday in Hiroshima, Japan. Poland beat Iran later in the day to slip past the U.S. for silver behind unbeaten Brazil.

The experienced U.S. men have claimed a medal in the last four major international tournaments — gold in the 2015 World Cup, bronze in the 2016 Olympics, bronze in the 2018 world championships and bronze in this year’s World Cup. The men also placed second in the 2019 Nations League and third in the first Nations League in 2018, though the team failed to medal in the last two editions of the World League in 2016 and 2017.

Most importantly for next year, the U.S. men swept their Olympic qualification tournament in August.

Micah Christenson was named best setter of the tournament, as he was in the 2015 tournament and in the 2018 world championships. Middle blocker Max Holt was also named to the tournament “Dream Team.

VIDEO: U.S.-Egypt highlights

The U.S. team’s World Cup started with a five-set loss to Argentina, which went on to finish fifth. The U.S. rebounded to beat Italy, world champion Poland, host Japan, Tunisia and Iran before losing to eventual champion Brazil. Border rival Canada took the U.S. to five sets, but sweeps against Australia and Brazil put the team in position to clinch its medal.

Heading into next year’s Olympics, the U.S. team has several internationally accomplished players. In addition to Christenson’s multiple awards, Matt Anderson was named the best opposite hitter in the world championship and Nations League in 2018, and Aaron Russell was named to the Dream Team in the 2016 Olympics. Russell, playing for Italian team Trentino, also was named MVP of the World Club Championship in December.

The U.S. women’s team also won two medals this year gold in the Nations League, silver in the World Cup and swept its own qualification tournament.

This success comes despite the lack of a professional league in the United States. USA volleyball announced last week it has processed paperwork for 257 women and 82 men to play in foreign leagues for the 2019-20, with more players to follow.

The World Cup is contested every four years, the year before the Olympics. The world championship takes place in even non-Olympic years. Qualification for the World Cup is more difficult — only 12 teams reach the tournament, while 24 teams take part in the world championship. 

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U.S. volleyball player Max Holt OK for Olympics after meldonium case

Max Holt
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Max Holt, who was named to the U.S. Olympic volleyball team on June 21, tested positive for meldonium via a June 10 sample, but can compete in the Rio Games because he took meldonium in December, before it became illegal Jan. 1.

Holt and other members of his Russian club team, Dynamo Moscow, received medication in December and were assured by a team doctor, who did not give a medical justification, that it was legal, according to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

“It was not until weeks later that Holt and his teammates realized they had been given meldonium,” according to USADA. “After a thorough review of the case, USADA concluded that the extremely low meldonium concentration in the athlete’s urine sample, combined with the athlete’s explanation of use, was consistent with ingestion prior to the substance being officially prohibited on January 1.”

That meldonium remained in Holt’s system for six months is no surprise, given a World Anti-Doping Agency update in April.

That Holt received medication from a doctor while with a Russian team is also no surprise, given meldonium was the source of dozens of failed drug tests earlier this year, mostly by Russian athletes. Most notably, Maria Sharapova, who took meldonium well before and then after Jan. 1 and is appealing a ban to Jan. 25, 2018.

“The fair determination was made that Holt’s use of meldonium came prior to its inclusion on the WADA Prohibited List,” USADA CEO Travis T. Tygart said in a press release. “This case serves as a reminder to all athletes that they must be diligent from a health and clean sport standpoint about exactly what they are using, and not simply ingest an unknown substance from just any coach or doctor.”

MORE: Olympic roster set for top-ranked U.S. women’s volleyball team