The U.S. men’s volleyball team learned there’s no relaxing against the Russians.
Russia lost the first two sets before coming back to win 3-2 and snap an 11-match winning streak for the United States in Olympic play, dating back to the team’s undefeated march to the gold medal in Beijing.
Maxim Mikhaylov scored 27 points and Sergey Tetyukhin added 21 points for No. 2 Russia in the 27-29, 19-25, 26-24, 25-16, 15-8 victory. Tetyukhin spiked for match point.
A win would have clinched the fifth-ranked U.S. men the top seed in their pool. They’ll have another chance on Monday against winless Tunisia.
“Something you can never do against Russia is relax,” U.S. wing spiker Sean Rooney said. “When they’re firing on all cylinders they’re tough to beat.”
Matt Anderson scored 18 points for the U.S. men, who had won three straight matches to open the London Games.
The team was coming off a four-set victory over top-ranked Brazil, a preliminary round rematch of the Beijing final. But they couldn’t counter Russia’s powerful serves and blocks.
The U.S. men weren’t considered among the favourites to medal in London but claimed the silver in the World League tournament before opening the Olympics with dominant straight-set victories over Serbia and Germany. Then came the upset over Brazil.
The U.S. landed in a difficult pool in London with Brazil, Russia, Serbia, Germany and Tunisia. The other six-team pool includes Italy, Poland, Argentina, Bulgaria, Australia and host Britain.
A points system decides which top four teams from each group will advance to play in the quarterfinals.
Russia lost in straight sets to Brazil earlier in the round but beat Germany and Tunisia. They’ll face Serbia on Monday.
The United States rallied to go ahead 21-20 in the first set on Lee’s monster kill before Anderson’s ace won it. Alexander Volkov’s block made it 12-all in the second, but Russia couldn’t pull ahead and Reid Priddy’s block sealed the set.
The United States was one point away from the win in the third, but Russia scored three straight points capped by Tetyukhin’s ace.
“That inspired us to win the match,” Mikhaylov said through a translator.
Russia dominated the final two sets.
“They know how close that was to being a win for us (but) they know that it happened in the right arena. If it’s going to happen it happened in pool play,” U.S. coach Alan Knipe said. “It’s not what we wanted but if we’re the team that we pride ourselves on being we’ll respond well from this.”
Russia and the United States each have three gold medals in volleyball, which became an Olympic sport in 1964.
The Russians, who won the bronze medal in Beijing, have not won a gold since 1980.
The Americans return six players from the emotional gold medal run in Beijing. Hugh McCutcheon’s father was stabbed to death at a popular Chinese tourist site a day before opening ceremony and the coach missed the team’s first three matches before leading them to the Olympic title.
McCutcheon has since gone over to the U.S. women’s team and Knipe took over the men.
Earlier in the day, Poland swept Britain to improve to 3-1 in Pool A and secure a spot in the quarterfinals. Zbigniew Bartman scored 20 points in the 25-16, 25-19, 25-18 victory.
Britain, which earned a place in the 12-team field as the host nation, is winless in the competition and was eliminated from the quarterfinal round.
Germany stayed alive in Pool B with a three-set win over Tunisia (25-15, 25-16, 26-16) to pull even at 2-2.
Former cricket player Steve Waugh was at Earls Court to cheer for Australia, which went up two sets on Italy before falling 3-2 (21-25, 18-25, 25-21, 25-14, 15-13).
The No. 22 Volleyroos had enthusiastic support from the fans as the underdogs against Italy. The Australians hugged after the match, and when they turned to acknowledge the crowd, they were rewarded with a standing ovation.
In the late matches, Argentina handed Bulgaria its first preliminary round loss with a 3-1 (25-18, 21-25, 25-19, 25-20) victory to improve to 2-2 in Pool A.
Brazil defeated Serbia 3-2 in the late match (22-25, 25-15, 20-25, 25-22, 15-9) to go up 3-1 in pool play, second in the standings ahead of Russia.