Russian Victor Poletaev spikes against Brazil's Barreto Silva Carlos Eduardo in 2013
Lausanne, Switzerland, September 4, 2015 - Should you ever find yourself wondering why Olympic champions Russia, world number one Brazil and world champions Poland are among the top nations in men’s volleyball, you need look no further than the FIVB Volleyball Men’s U21 World Championship. These three countries have dominated the first 17 editions of the competition, which next takes place in the Mexican cities of Tijuana and Mexicali from September 11-20.
The Soviet Union and its successor state Russia have stepped onto the top step of the podium on nine occasions – more than half of the tournaments – and have won 14 medals. Brazil have been in the medals on 13 occasions, including four titles. Poland have been crowned champions twice. The last time was in 2003 when the team featured Mariusz Wlazly - the very same Wlazly who led Poland to the World Championship title in 2014 and also won the MVP award.
His is one of many big careers that began at the U21 World Championships. Two years ago, all eyes were on Viktor Poletaev, who helped Russia to their ninth gold medal in the history of the event.
The Russians won the 2013 tournament with a comfortable 3-0 victory over rivals Brazil. Poletaev scored 151 points over the course of the championship and was named Most Valuable Player (MVP).
“I was very surprised, especially since I was much younger than most of the players there,” he said. “The MVP is usually a member of the team that wins gold, so this individual award was a very nice addition to our result as a team.”
Two years later, Poletaev has established himself as a key player with the senior Russian men’s team. In Baku, he won bronze at the inaugural European Games. With 114 points to his name – including 15 aces – Poletaev was his team's undisputed top scorer. He is currently preparing for the FIVB Volleyball Men's World Cup, where Russia will be aiming to secure one of the first two tickets to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
In 2011, it was Aleksandar Atanasijević's turn to be the the championship’s top scorer, leading Serbia to a bronze medal. Today he is one of his country’s biggest volleyball superstars and was recently given a standing ovation by Brazilian fans at the final of the FIVB Volleyball World League in Rio de Janeiro.
This year’s U21 championship in Mexico offers Russia an opportunity to complete a hat-trick of consecutive titles. Only the Soviet Union had ever achieved that feat, winning the competition in 1977, 1981 and 1985. Korea claimed its only title to date in 1987 and, after another victory for the Soviet Union in 1989, Bulgaria came out on top in 1991. Indeed, the only countries to have been crowned world champions in this age group are Russia (and the Soviet Union), Brazil, Poland, Bulgaria and Korea.
In total, however, 15 different countries have won medals, including Italy (5 medals), Cuba (4), Argentina (2), China, Japan, France, Iran, Czech Republic, Serbia, and Venezuela (all 1).
Mexico stages the 16-team championship for the first time this year. Brazil, India, Bahrain (each twice), USA, Italy, Greece, Egypt, Argentina, Malaysia, Thailand, Poland, Iran, Morocco and Turkey have all hosted the event in the past.