U.S. men qualify for Olympics with golden performance


The U.S. men's volleyball team gave itself a little more breathing room this time around.

The Americans didn't secure its spot at the London 2012 Olympic Games until two months before the Opening Ceremony. Team USA punched its ticket to next summer's Rio Olympics by earning gold at the FIVB Volleyball Men's World Cup on Wednesday in Tokyo.

Final standings/FIVB
In their final match of the tournament, the U.S. men defeated Argentina, 25-20, 25-21, 17-25, 25-20, at the Yoyogi National Gymnasium. The victory gave the U.S. A 10-1 record, tying it with Italy and Poland. The U.S. won the first tiebreaker, which was the points earned for wins, with 30 points.

Italy, which tied Poland with 29 points, took the silver medal and the second Olympic berth by winning the second tiebreaker, points ratio.

The win was Team USA's first World Cup crown in 30 years. The World Cup had long been a thorn in the side of the U.S. men's team. Prior to this week, its only two podium finishes were a gold in 1985 and bronze in 1991. Team USA then finished fourth in four consecutive tournaments and sixth in 2011.

"To do something that hasn't been done in 30 years is an exceptional achievement," U.S. coach John Speraw said. "I don't think there is a harder tournament to win, physically and mentally, than the World Cup. The team was just tremendous in its ability to maintain focus and to play each match, each set, each point as if it would all make a difference in the end. And I think it did. We came into this going for gold."

Argentina, which finished the tournament in fifth place at 7-4, made sure the United States' final match wasn't boring. Many of the U.S. players were clearly exhausted when the match was over. Speraw sat Anderson for a time in the third set and put in Murphy Troy.

"I can't become MVP without a supporting cast," Anderson said. "I played well, but the team played extremely well together and fought through some really tough matches and some really tough times. We put ourselves in a great position. So MVP is for the team, not me."

As only the top two teams at the World Cup earn automatic Olympic qualification, the U.S. has long had to earn its Olympic berths at the continental Olympic qualification tournaments typically held a few months before the Games.

The U.S. men have fared significantly better at the Olympics, with three gold medals and one bronze.

They last won gold at the Beijing 2008 Games, before a disappointing fifth-place finish four years later in London after a quarterfinal loss to Italy. But at this year's World Cup, the U.S. came out on top, with Italy finishing second and Poland third.

Olympian Matt Anderson was named tournament MVP, while teammates Erik Shoji, a Stanford grad, and Micah Christenson took the titles of Best Libero and Best Setter. Shoji even got into the scoring act when his overhand dig from the back row fell on Argentina's side with the U.S. leading 22-17 in the fourth set, but with Argentina making a charge.

Team USA has been back on the rise the past two years. In 2014, the men earned their first FIVB World League title since 2008 and followed that up with a third-place finish in 2015.

Unlike World League, which is held annually across several weeks and seeds teams, the World Cup is a 12-team round-robin tournament that takes place over the course of two weeks. Team USA finished with a 10-1 record in Japan.

Earlier this month, the U.S. women finished third at their World Cup. The team will have its next opportunity to qualify for Rio at the NORCECA Continental Olympic Qualification Tournament in May.

— B.J. Evans/USA volleyball

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