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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Scattered Olympic Team Gels Before Atlanta

Its stars scattered in high-paying volleyball leagues across three continents of the world, Russia's Olympic team got some well-timed preparation for Atlanta in recent days when the World Volleyball League rolled into town.


Russia beat Japan 3-0 and China 3-1, its two opponents in Group C of the league, on the weekend to remain one of only two undefeated teams in the $5.5 million tournament. Italy, the defending champion, is also unbeaten in Group B.


But despite virtually guaranteeing its spot in next month's league finals in the Netherlands, Russia's Olympic chances look bleak, according to team coach Vyacheslav Platonov.


Like its counterparts in soccer and ice hockey, Russia's best volleyball players compete for foreign clubs. Captain Dmitry Fomin and Valery Goryshev play in Italy; Ruslan Olikhver and Pavel Shyshkin in Brazil; Oleg Shatunov and Yevgeny Mitkov in Japan; Yevgeny Krasilnikov, team's setter, in Turkey.


The players rarely get a chance to practice together, and although Russia once dominated in world play, it struggled in recent competitions and qualified for Atlanta only on a third attempt.


"We're far from being a cohesive unit right now," said Platonov, who was brought out of retirement to guide the Russian squad in Atlanta.


Under Platonov's reign between 1977 and 1985, the Soviet Union won every major international tournament it played in, winning two world titles and an Olympic gold medal during the span.


Platonov left the team to coach abroad, but was persuaded to come back for the 1992 Barcelona Games. But the CIS team's seventh place finish there was a disaster, and the coach was let go.


Now, in his third stint with the national team, Platonov relies heavily on veterans like Fomin, who has been voted the top volleyball player in the Italian league for two years running.


"We need to spend some time together before all of us can go in the same direction," said Fomin. "The World League should give us the necessary match experience before the Olympics."