The iconic players of Russia: Lyubov Sokolova on the left, and Ekaterina Gamova on the right. Both shift between the opposite and outside hitter positions. Like I said before, Sokolova, 6'3.5", is perhaps the compleat player to have emerged from the Russian team. She was outstanding in all the volleyball fundamentals save probably in setting. At 6'7.5", Gamova is probably the tallest woman player active in the international volleyball scene. Her intimidating block is extremely effective when she is the opposite position directly in front of the outside hitter on the other side of the court.
By the time volleyball was firmly entrenched in the summer Olympic Games, two-schools of distinct playing pattern had emerged: the faster-Asian style and the power-based, but slower Russian school of volleyball. It made perfect sense for the Russians to employ this kind of tactic. They had, and still have, the physique and height to tower over net, setting up intimidating blocks and hitting extremely powerful spikes.
Evgenya Artamanova, right, and Elena Godina, left, were the two other outside hitters. Artamanova, 6'3", was the starting outside hitter for the team from 1992-2000, and returned to play for the last time at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. During the 90's, she was considered to be one of the world's best outside hitters, able to either penetrate or go over any block facing her. Godina, 6'4.5", is an unusual outside hitter as she was never required to receive the serve from 1996-2002. But late in her carrer, the new Italian coach trained to be one of the main receivers of the squad, with variable results.
They reached the apex during the reign of the fearsome Nikolai Karpol, who saw them through a gold finish in 1988, and two silvers in 1992 and 2004, (bronze). His infamous style of bellowing at his players is well documented, both in photos and videos. He was particularly hard on his setters, and did not spare them from his tirades during time-outs.
Karpol yelling at Sokolova along the sidelines.
Speaking of setters, this has been the particular waterloo of the Russian national team. When the great setter Irina Parkomchuk/Kirillova defected to Croatia in 1992, Karpol was left with no choice but to teach the setting tricks of the trade to their current opposite, Marina Nikulina. But even if Nikulina did good in that position, she was did not posses the free-flowing creativity of Kirillova. This started the trend for the Russian setters to send mountain-high balls to the outside hitters, along with the occasional quick first tempo sets to the middle and opposite attackers.
Upper left, the stellar Russian setter Irina Parkomchuk/Kirillova attempting to block the legendary Cuban outside hitter Mireya Luis. After playing in her adopted country, Croatia, Kirilova continued playing in the Italian clubs, and eventually returned to the Russian team as assistant coach under the then-new Italian head coach, Giovanni Caprara (her husband). At the age of 44, she is still curently playing for the Italian club Ayastel Novarra.
Upper right, beautiful Tatiana Gratcheva, the primary setter in the mid-90's. She returned for the Sydney Olympics as the back-up setter, and became the main setter once more until the World Championships in 2002.
Left, No. 10 Elena Vassilevskaya. At 5'9", she was diminitive to look at compared to her towering team mates. Her baby-faced demeanor saw the squad through two silvers in the major competitions, at the 1998 World Championships and the 2000 Olympics.