Lausanne, Switzerland, September 23, 2015 - Olympic champions Russia have a great history of volleyball behind them and a promising future ahead. With victory at the FIVB Volleyball Men’s U21 World Championship in Tijuana and Mexicali, Mexico, the Russians put the finishing touches to an outstanding season for the country's male talent in this year's age-group World Championships.
After fourth place for the U19 team and a title for the U23 squad, Russia's "golden generation" were again crowned world champions at the U21s. And with their third title in a row at the U21 World Championships, Russia also clinch a historic hat-trick of consecutive victories - the only other team to score a similar success were the Soviet Union between 1977 and 1985.
“It is all a result of the hard work of coaches and players across the country. Here in Argentina, my team showed that they can also fight with absolute determination,” said coach Mikhail Nikolaev.
In the final, Russia were 0-2 down before their physical strength helped turn things around to win the match 3-2 (20-25, 18-25, 25-16, 25-21 and 15-11).
Summing up the five sets, Nikolaev said: “It was a difficult match between two different teams. Argentina play very nice volleyball - it is very interesting. They play such fast volleyball. I think we were stronger physically and not technically, that was our problem. Maybe we were lucky tonight.”
Luck, however, has only played a small role in Russia's success over the years. No other country in the world has produced as many talented volleyball players. The country's clubs do a lot of work in this respect, which combines well with the structure and experience provided by the national volleyball association.
At the competition in Tijuana and Mexicali, Russia's young coaching team consisted of Mikhail Nikolaev and Vladimir Khromenkov. Khromenkov led Russia to victory at the World Universiade in Gwangju this year. And Nikolaev was the coach who recently led Russia to victory at the U23 World Championships.
Pavel Pankov was one of the outstanding players of the tournament. The playmaker was voted the tournament's MVP, two years after winning the same award at the 2013 edition of the U19 World Championship, which was also played in Mexico.
“This is a city with good memories for me. It will remain so. A very happy place, very good fans and people. I am happy to win this tournament again and receive this award,” he said. The other Russian players receiving awards from the FIVB Control Committee were Best Outside Spiker Dmitry Volkov and Second Best Outside Spiker Dennis Bogdan.
Pankov is the heart and soul of the Russian team and represents one of the most famous volleyball families in his country. His mother Marina Nikulina (Pankova) won Olympic gold in Seoul in 1988 with the Soviet Union. His father Vadim managed Russia's second women’s team at the inaugural European Games in Baku this summer, and also coaches top club Odintsovo. Pankov's sister Ekaterina Kosianenko (Pankova) was a European champion with Russia in 2013 and won bronze in the 2015 edition of the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix.
Pankov only turned 20 on August 14, but he is already regarded as one of the the most talented setters in Russia. No wonder, given his family background.
“He has been learning how to play volleyball since he was a little four-year-old kid, because everyone in his family plays the game. His father played, his mother was an Olympic gold medallist and his sister is the setter in the women’s national team,” said Alexander Karikov, one of his coaches in the national youth teams.
“He is a very smart young man with an overall ability for the game.” The young man, who lists his favourite book as War and Peace, is not just a fantastic setter, however. At 1.98 metres tall, he is also a successful points scorer, thanks to his blocking ability and, above all, his fearsome serves.
Now he dreams of being part of the Russian squad at the Summer Games in Rio in 2016. However, should this competition come too soon for Pankov, he also has his sights set on the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. “Obviously it would be a dream to win a major title as a player, just as my mother and sister have,” he said. In any case, he has won more titles for Russia as a junior player than anyone else ever has.