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At Home On The Court: 1986 FIVB Promotional Tournament

Mark Lebedew is the Head Coach of the Australian National and also coaches Aluron Virtu Warta Zawiercie of the Polish Plus Liga. Known as one of the top coaches in ther world, Lebedew is also the author of the popular “At Home On The Court” blog (www.marklebedew.com) where he provides insights into international volleyball, coaching, and some blasts from the past.

Having only been born in 1992, and not really coming into the sport of volleyball until 2005 - I always find it interesting when I can find stories and video of some of those who built the foundation for what Canadian volleyball is today. Chiefly among those are the men’s indoor teams of the 1980’s.

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Until recent times - it was the most decorated team in the program, with some of the biggest names in our history competing for the Maple Leaf, Nnames all Canadians fans should recognize immediately. Paul Gratton, Glenn Hoag, Garth Pishcke, Terry Danyluk, Don Saxton, John Barrett, Tom Jones, and Stelio DeRocco just to name a couple. Yeah, there’s probably a couple names on that list you recognize.

There’s one thing I find interesting about this squad however - that despite being only two years removed from a 4th Place finish at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics - they were the last Canadian men’s team to fail to qualify for the World Championships.

Now, before we get into this - we should mention a few things about these 1986 Championships. First, was that 1986 was the first year they dropped the tournament to 16 teams instead of 24 like it was previously in 1982. The tournament eventually opened back up to 24 teams in 1998. Also - it seems like the FIVB employed a big process similar to uSports - as spots were given to zones who medalled at the previous tournament - explaining why both Argentina and Venezuela had direct byes while powers like Italy, Cuba, and Canada, had to qualify through a last chance qualifier.

And it’s that tournament we’re here to talk about - thanks to Australian Coach Mark Lebedew’s latest blog post on his “Home On The Court” blog. We won’t go through the whole thing - you can head to his site for that, but we will point out some of his most memorable moments featuring Canadians for you:

Glen Hoag winking at me when I stepped into a lift with him and three other 2m, 100kg Canadians, at that time the largest humans I had ever encountered

If you’ve ever had to pleasure of meeting The Godfather - you’ll know how serious he can be. There’s no way you become one of the most respected names in the sport if you don’t take things seriously - but this exchange between the younger selves of two of the world’s best coaches shows Hoag’s other, lighter side. Also fun to think of this exchange as the first time these two legends met - both younger and presumably with a little more hair than they have now.

Who can’t imagine John Barrett going to spike town in leather pants? Give the people what they want, John!

Who can’t imagine John Barrett going to spike town in leather pants? Give the people what they want, John!

Stelio DeRocco owning the hotel dining room

No one has ever accused Stelio DeRocco of being quite or subdued - so we can only imagine the various ways the elder statesman of the DeRocco’s “owned” the dining room. Probably the same way Jason DeRocco always seems to be at the centre of the party.

John Barrett’s leather pants

Legend has it that Tom Selleck modelled character in “Magnum PI” after John Barrett in the 1980’s - but the movie star refuses to admit that truth. By this time - Barrett had already been credited with inventing the jump serve, so wearing leather pants was the natural nest step to asserting dominance. I’m sure I speak for many however, when I request the leather pants to be brought out of retirement for the next U of T Varsity Blues home game - it’s only fair.

The entire bronze medal match between Greece and Canada, with the winner gaining the last World Championships place.  The stadium was absolutely full of 18,000 spectators, all of whom wanted Greece to win, and all of whom whistled every single time Canadian Paul Gratton went back to serve .

The Korean referee overruling the obviously cheating Greek linesmen four times on match point.

While these are separate memories for Lebedew, we’ll count them as one since it’s the same game. With only three spots left for the 1986 World Championships in France - only the medalists of the event would move on. Taking on a team at home is never easy - but taking a traditionally passionate country like Greece, in Greece, in front of 18,000 rabid fans is an undertaking - even when you don’t have to fight against corrupt officials. If you want to see what that looks like - check out the video below.

While the match didn’t go our way - it’s still cool to get a rare chance to see what these legends looked like in action. It’s also a good chance to see the evolution of the game. How do you think these OG’s would stack up against the team that competed in Rio 30 years later?