"America is very strong," says Zhang Yipei, the coach of the Chinese team. "It is a possibility to win the gold medal in the Olympics. Good both defense and offense."
The Chinese will provide the toughest competition for the U.S. at the Games. Their style, featuring a precise uniformity of play that fairly hums, is similar to that of the Japanese. Both teams are especially adept at defense, at unremittingly returning balls that seem destined to touch the ground. Getting a ball past the 12 hands of the Japanese team is like trying to throw a bread ball through a flock of hungry sea gulls. The Chinese, because they are slightly taller, have a stronger attack than the Japanese. But the Americans—with Rose Magers, Paula Weishoff, Rita Crockett and Hyman—have the strongest attack. Selinger says there are seven players on a team: the six players and the team itself. If that seventh American player is in good health, and provides cohesiveness and spark, the U.S. could win a gold medal.
"We feel the American team has the best chance for the gold," says the Soviet coach, Vladimir Leonidovitch Patkin. "There is a Russian saying that at home the native walls help us. If the Americans are in their best form they will win."
Responding to frenzied cheers of "Go U.S.A.!" from a normally restrained Soviet crowd, the U.S. team was in its best form in Riga, Latvia in May when it rallied in the fifth game of a match against the Soviet women's team to shut it out 15-0. "We were like animals let out of a cage," says Crockett, 27, of San Antonio, whose long femur bones hoist her 40 inches off the ground. With spikes strong enough to send the caviar rolling off the stale slices of bread in the refreshment stands, the U.S. team engraved a foreword to the L.A. Olympics: As far as women's volleyball is concerned, the Soviets may as well stay home.
"This match definitely eliminates any question mark in the Olympics," says Selinger. "If we take first, second or third this summer, everyone will know we really deserve it."
"The teams that need to be there will be there," says Hyman resolutely, determined not to feel the burn of yet another boycott.
For most of the U.S. Olympic athletes, news of the 1980 Olympic boycott had left them impotent, raging, stranded in a wreckage of dreams. For the women's volleyball team, whose members had lived together and trained for two years, the frustration was so acute that seven players and Selinger, more than half the team, agreed to persevere for another four years to achieve their goal. For them, the sacrifices they would have to continue making paled beside the sacrifice of abandoning their dream.
"There's no way we'd have stayed together without Arie," says the 5'4" Green, 26, of Westminster, who is one of the world's shortest and best setters. "He always fights for us. He wants the best for us. He's hard, but he lets you know when you've done well."
"If Arie hadn't stayed after the boycott, I wouldn't have stayed," says Hyman. "I didn't think anybody else could do the job. Not too many coaches have his ability to really care for their players. You have to mature them; you have to teach them. How can you find the right formula for a team if you don't know the players? Coaching is an art. The better you are, the better you produce. This team is a reflection of Arie's art."
"The team is a mirror image of the coach's personality," says Selinger. His is at once smooth and rough, charming and rude, reserved and aggressive. Refusing to sweet-talk anyone, even if it sometimes seems in the best interest of the team or the sport, he can be surly to coaches, to the press, to officials, to anyone he feels is using him.