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21 Oct 1964
Tokyo 1964

Home nation dominate first volleyball contest


This was the first time volleyball had been included in the Olympic programme, and it was keenly anticipated by the home supporters. The Japanese men took bronze, behind the dominant Soviet Union, but the home nation was more focused on Japan’s women’s volleyball team.

Ten members of the team worked at the same spinning mill near Osaka. The team’s coach, Hirofumi Daimatsu, also worked there, where he was in charge of buying office supplies. Such an ordinary exterior hid a man of extraordinary determination.

His training techniques bordered on the extreme. Players were taunted and forced to train almost every day of the year, but Daimatsu also created new tactics that have survived to this day.

He crafted a highly successful team that captured the fascination of the Japanese public. They were expected to win, and to win with style.

They obliged by dropping just one set in the whole tournament, a narrow 15-13 reverse at the hands of Poland. Even then, there was a reason - that set was conceded only after Daimatsu had taken some of his best players off the court in order to frustrate the watching Soviet scouts.

In the final match, the women played the USSR. The Soviet team actually reached the final with a superior record, with four victories and no sets conceded, but the match did not turn out to be the classic that neutrals might have hoped for. Instead, the Japanese were dominant from beginning to end, winning 3-0.

For the home fans, though, it was exactly the result they had hoped for. The women’s triumph was watched by 80% of the country on TV.

After the Olympic Games were over, the team’s captain, Masae Kasai, met the Prime Minister. She mentioned that she could not meet a prospective husband because of the athletes’ strict training regime. He sympathised, set her up on a date with a man named Kazuo Nakamura - and the two went on to marry.

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