2002: Brazil's men and Italy's women win first World Championship titles


Brazil celebrate winning the 2002 FIVB Men's World Championship

The two FIVB World Championships are the highlights of the year. Each week in the run-up to the title showdowns for the men in Poland (August 30 to September 21) and for the women in Italy (September 23 to October 12), we take a look back at the stories to emerge from previous competitions. In part 15, we look at the FIVB World Championships in 2002 in Argentina and Germany.

Lausanne, Switzerland, August 21, 2014 - The FIVB World Championships in 2002 in Argentina for the men and Germany for the women saw Brazil's men and Italy's women win the most prestigious title in the world of volleyball for the first time.

Marco Bonitta was on the sidelines for Italy. He will also lead the Italian women at the FIVB Women's World Championship Italy 2014 in a few weeks time. Brazil's gold medal, on the other hand, completed the team's rise to top spot in the world rankings and marked the beginning of their reign at the Men's World Championship, which they also went on to win in 2006 and 2010.

The championship final in 2002 was the second edition of the event in Argentina, which also welcomed the competition 20 years earlier. At that time, the Soviet Union defeated Brazil to secure their last World Championship title to date (as Russia's predecessor state), but two decades later, the outcome was very different. In a dramatic final round, the South Americans triumphed 15-13 in the tiebreaker. The yellow and green team with top point scorer Nalbert (23) and Giba were left celebrating, while the Soviet Union, with their top scorer Tetioukhine (22), were left to consider missed opportunities.

The final was a memorable event, but it is mainly the incredible atmosphere at the championship which has remained in the memories of those who attended. The economic crisis in Argentina had raised doubts about staging the championship in that country, but spectators took the event to heart and turned the stadiums in the six host cities into a fiesta of volleyball, which drew over 330,000 spectators. Luna Park Stadium in Buenos Aires was always sold out when the host team were playing, and the crowd turned it into a sea of blue and white flags, singing and dancing their way through the championship. Every player from each of the 24 competing countries went home with the tune “Ole, ole, ola, Argentina!” ringing in their ears.

“It was a fantastic moment to play under these conditions, even if you were an opponent of Argentina,” said French head coach Philippe Blain. “This is something the players will always remember.”

The event was also broadcast worldwide to around 200 countries, by host broadcaster ESPN, enabling millions of volleyball fans to enjoy this quality tournament. Arguably, the 2002 Men’s World Championship also launched a new era in volleyball, with the emergence of European teams like France. Their creative play and talented individual players thrilled the crowds and were rewarded with a bronze medal – their first medal at  a World Championship. Hosts Argentina finished in sixth place, but with Marcos Milinkovic claiming the tournament's best scorer and MVP awards.

In the women's championship, this award was received by Elisa Togut, Italy's fantastic spiker. She was the final's outstanding player, scoring 32 points in the dramatic 3-2 match. "Le ragazze irresistibili", as the Italian media nicknamed their team, brought an end to the Cuban women's dominance in the competition, symbolised by their titles at the last two events. The ousted defending champions only managed a fifth place. Perhaps even more disappointed were hosts Germany, who started with high hopes but finished tenth.

Overall, the only FIVB World Championship to have taken place in Germany to date was a resounding success. In total, 285,120 spectators watched matches in the eight host cities. "This World Championship was a bigger success than expected," said FIVB Event Director Franz Schmied. The US team was a deserved finalist, after sailing through 10 matches in a row in the tournament, and they only conceded the title in a hard-fought tiebreaker. The tournament shook up the established hierarchy in the women's game and injected new blood into the competition. Formerly dominant Russia had to make do with the bronze medal and China finished fourth - both were pre-tournament favourites.

"Italy is the right World Champion," said US head coach Toshiaki Yoshida at the time. "They deserved to win because the team is well balanced and has good players in all positions. We kept fighting and I am proud that my team came so far.”

Read about earlier editions of the competition by clicking on the links below:

1998: Hat-trick gold winners Italy and Cuba successfully defend their titles
1994: Cuba and Italy claim World Championship titles
1990: Last World Championship title for the Soviet Union and first for Italy
1986: USA bring a halt to East European dominance
1982: The Soviet Union and China win gold at World Championships
1978: Italy and Cuba step into World Championships spotlight
1974: Poland surprise favourites to win Men's World Championships
1970: Surprise World Championship gold for the German Democratic Republic
1966 and 1967: Soviet Union empty-handed for the first time
1962: Japan’s ladies produced “volleyball from another planet” to end the dominance of the hosts, the Soviet Union
1960: Volleyball fever in Brazil, both World Championship titles go to the Soviet Union again
1956: Czechoslovakia claim trophy in Paris
1952: Soviet Union win double gold in Moscow
1949: Soviet Union win inaugural World Championships


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