BARCELONA, Spain -- Bob Samuelson embraces his role as a villain. He says he is comfortable with it. He loves it when crowds jeer and boo and, in the case of Europe, whistle.
But he does draw a line on the bad boy image.
"I hate Bill Laimbeer," Samuelson said, invoking a basketball comparison. "I like to think of myself as a [Charles] Barkley. I like to bang and play physical. . . . When Fred [Strum, the U.S. volleyball coach] puts me in the game, he wants me to be fired up. He wants me to talk and yell at my teammates and get them going."
Samuelson, however, readily admits that he has yelled one time too many in the 1992 Olympics. That occurred in the first game of the tournament when Samuelson was assessed two penalties for excessively arguing with the referees.
The last resulted in a one-point penalty against the United States. And although the penalty was over-ruled at the time and the United States went on to win the game, the decision later was reversed by the International Volleyball Federation. That point was the match point in the U.S. loss to Japan.
Yesterday, the FIVB upheld the penalty and rejected a U.S. appeal. The loss stands, and as a result, the U.S. cannot win its preliminary pool.
But the Americans seem to be rounding into the form that enabled them to win the 1988 gold medal in Seoul. Yesterday, they had their first three-set victory and improved their record to 3-1 as they defeated France, 15-5, 15-12, 15-8. That victory clinched a spot for the Americans in the medal round.
But they still have a big preliminary game tomorrow when they meet Italy, which has a 4-0 record.
Samuelson, who grew up in Playa del Rey, Calif., said his teammates have put the loss to Japan behind them, but added, "It's important to remember what happened because I think we got screwed."
The incident, however, also made the team closer. Samuelson lost his hair when he was 18 because of a skin disorder, and as a show of unity, all of his teammates let him shave their heads.
"That was important," he said. "That let me know that they were more upset with the decision than they were with me yelling and freaking out."
His teammates, however, were also upset with themselves. Japan should have never been close to the United States.
The United States also struggled in five-set victories over Canada and Spain. And they had trouble with a weak French team in the second set. France led for most of the set, and at one time, had a 12-7 advantage. But Samuelson said he wasn't worried.
"I thought, 'Now we've got them right where we want them,' " he said. "It seems that in games when we're up like 7-2, we play our worst, and when we're down 7-2, we play our best. When we're behind, we seem to settle down and play well."
Even when Samuelson is concentrating, however, he is excited. He feeds off the emotion. When he is not emotional, he does not play well. He said that at times when he is playing poorly, he'll walk to the bench and ask teammate Eric Sato to hit him.
"I ask Eric to slap me in the face to get the adrenalin going," Samuelson said. "He's slugged me a couple of times."
The loss to Japan was a slap in the face for the Americans. But now they are starting to hit back.
"It's frustrating because we still think we're 4-0," said team captain Scott Fortune. "But when it comes to the semifinals and the finals, I think we can go on for a long time. I think we will rise to the occasion."