Since its Olympic debut at Tokyo 1964, the event had been dominated by the Soviet Union, who won the opening two titles before losing out to Japan at Munich in 1972.
Although Poland had booked their place in the Olympic tournament by virtue of winning the world championship title in Mexico two years earlier, they were still considered outsiders when pitted against the traditional powerhouses.
They would eventually meet the Soviet Union in the final, but their respective paths to the gold medal match could barely have been more contrasting.
The Soviet team was drawn in the second pool which was reduced to four teams following the withdrawal of Egypt, who joined the African boycott of the Games after their opening match against Brazil.
This meant the USSR had just three matches between them and a place in the semi-finals, which they booked with consummate ease.
They swept aside Italy and South American champions Brazil without losing a game before routing the reigning Olympic champions Japan with the loss of just 28 points.
For the Poles, who were in the other pool, comprising five teams, it was far more of a slog.
They trailed the Republic of Korea 15-12 15-6 in their opener before staging a terrific comeback to win the deciding set 15-5.
They again found themselves two sets down against the Cubans, before staging an impressive comeback and clinching the fifth 20-18. With another hard-fought 3-1 win over Czechoslovakia they progressed to a semi-final clash against Japan, having completed by far the most arduous passage of the four remaining teams.
While the USSR cruised past the Cubans 3-0, the Poles again made life hard for themselves, twice conceding a one-set lead over Japan before sealing the match 15-10 in the decisive fifth set.
The Soviet team were the overwhelming favourites going into the final, and when Poland found themselves 2-1 down and trailing 15-14 in the fourth set it looked like their dream run was over.
However, they came back to snatch the setit 19-17, and eventually their superior endurance levels helped them clinch the decider 15-7.