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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia's Volleyball Prospects Off Line

Once a dominant power in men's volleyball, Russia has slipped in world rankings to the point that its Olympic team secured a place for Atlanta only on its third try.

Russia beat Denmark, Bulgaria and newly reinstated Yugoslavia -- not exactly volleyball's heavyweights -- in the pre-Olympic qualifying tournament in January to the relief of its coach Vyacheslav Platonov.

"I've said it before that the hardest part of all is to qualify for the Games," Platonov said.

"Competing in Atlanta should be somewhat easier for us. We'll have less pressure and we'll get all of our top players back" from overseas where they have migrated for bigger contracts.

For Russia to have a realistic chance to claim a medal in Atlanta it must rely heavily on its proven veterans, like team captain Dmitry Fomin, who was voted the top volleyball player in the world in 1995.

Like their counterparts in soccer and ice hockey, Russia's best volleyball players make their living competing for foreign clubs.

Fomin and Valery Goryshev play in Italy, Ruslan Olikhver and Pavel Shishkin in Brazil, Oleg Shatunov and Yevgeny Mitkov in Japan, Yevgeny Krasilnikov, the team's setter, in Turkey.

"We need to spend some time together before all of us can go in the same direction," said Fomin, the Italian league's most valuable player for the last two years. "The pre-Olympic tournament and the World League gave us the needed match experience before the Olympics."

Russia placed third in the finals of the $2 million World League competition last month in Holland, losing a close five-set match to world champion Italy 3-2.

Nevertheless, the coach was pleased with the outcome.

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

Under his reign as head coach between 1977 and 1985, the Soviet Union won every major international competition it played in, including 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 team's seventh-place finish resulted in his departure.

Now, in his third stint with the national team, Platonov looks to Fomin and company to pull the team through.

Fomin, 28, took over the captaincy of the Russian team, replacing Andrei Kuznetsov, who was killed in an automobile accident in Italy on New Year's Eve in 1994.

"Andrei's leadership will be missed the most in key Olympic matchups against other top teams," Fomin said. "But he is not forgotten. He'll be in our hearts."