Japan ended 32 years of hurt and frustration on Sunday as it upset the United States to claim the bronze medal in a full-sets thriller at the women’s volleyball world championship in Tokyo.
Russia successfully defended its title with a close-fought 21-25, 25-17, 20-25, 25-14, 15-11 win over Olympic gold medalist Brazil in the final.
Japan squandered a two-set lead to blow the chance of a place in the final against Russia in Saturday’s semis against Brazil, and the United States was on the receiving end of a backlash from the host nation as it twice came from behind to win 18-25, 25-23, 21-25, 25-19, 15-8, sparking delirious scenes at Yoyogi National Gymnasium.
The medal was Japan’s first since taking the silver at the 1978 world championship.
“This is the greatest feeling,” said Japan coach Masayoshi Manabe. “Finishing in the top three was the target we had set ourselves and the players tried ever so hard so I am grateful. I really believed in them.”
Saori Kimura, played a pivotal role and nailed 28 points for the Japanese, her score matched by Destinee Hooker for the Americans.
Despite the disappointment of defeat, U.S. coach Hugh McCutcheon said he was proud of his players.
“I’m proud with the way our team competed. Both the US and Japan did their best, and they were very good. As a result, we were defeated,” said McCutcheon.
“It was a long tournament. We had the privilege of visiting various cities of Japan, and it was certainly different than playing in New York. That difference made it a bit difficult for us. Japan played a good match, so I want to congratulate them. We learned from this year, and hopefully we will come back stronger next year.”