BARCELONA, Spain -- It was hard for U.S. volleyball player Doug Partie to accept his bronze medal.
"This was the toughest tournament field I've seen in quite a while," Partie said. "But that's no consolation for how I feel right now. I'm still getting my bronze medal gold-plated."
After an uninspired first game, the United States played to its potential in the next three and defeated Cuba, 12-15, 15-13, 15-7, 15-11, yesterday to earn the bronze.
Brazil, with one of the best attacks in the game, won the gold by defeating the Netherlands, 15-12, 15-8, 15-5.
"We decided that if we couldn't win the gold, we might as well leave here with something," said blocker and opposite hitter Bob Samuelson, who sparked the United States' victory.
It has been a long and frustrating ride here for the U.S. team. The players shaved their heads last week in protest of a decision that gave Japan a preliminary win over the Americans after the U.S. team had won on the court. Then Friday, the United States was knocked from gold-medal contention, losing to Brazil during the semifinals in four games.
It ruined the team's dream of winning three consecutive Olympic gold medals.
"It was really hard picking ourselves up," Samuelson said. "I was about as low as a person can get, especially since most of the controversy centered around me in the game against Japan. I think the guys knew how low I was. We held a team meeting last night, and it seemed to motivate us a little bit. I know I felt a little better."
U.S. coach Fred Strum said he warned his club that it could not be lethargic against Cuba. The Americans led the series against the Cubans, 39-31, but Cuba had won the previous 10 matches, including a match at the 1991 World Cup.
Plus, the Cubans were looking to earn their second volleyball medal, equaling their bronze in 1976.