In a tournament that had just about everything for the U.S. men’s volleyball team – dominant wins and dramatic collapses alike – Sunday morning offered something new for the Americans: a rain-soaked walk to the Maracanazinho.
With Closing Ceremony barricades surrounding the arena, the mile-long trek was a rather dreary start to the day. Fortunately for Team USA, the match itself brought yet another epic comeback that offered redemption in a wild Olympics.
On Friday it was a spectacular resurgence by the Italians that stunned the Americans in the semifinals. Two days later, the U.S. brought some magic of its own, snagging the bronze medal in five sets (23-25, 21-25, 25-19, 25-19, 15-13).
It wasn’t supposed to get to this point. Back-to-back losses in the opening matches of pool play seemed to promise an early exit for Team USA. The disappointment didn’t last for long, as coach John Speraw rallied one of the youngest American squads in Olympic history to a sudden turnaround. The Italy loss was a setback. The Russia victory was redemption.
And it didn’t come from the young guns. No, it was 38-year-old Reid Priddy – the veteran outside hitter competing in his fourth Olympic Games – who came off the bench and brought the Americans storming back.
At one point they were down two sets to none, at risk of getting swept and leaving Rio empty-handed. Russia, the defending gold medalist, had brought its size and strength to put pressure on the U.S., maintaining its lead for almost the entirety of the opening sets. The Americans flipped the script, though, suddenly getting comfortable midway through the third set.
Three sets later, following a thrilling 15-13 win in the fifth, the Americans stormed the court in victory with its first Olympic medal since gold in 2008. The last time Team USA defeated Russia in the Summer Games was in 1988 when it took the gold medal over the then-Soviet Union.