Throughout the 1980s the volleyball world was ruled by the likes of the U.S., Soviet Union and East Germany. Yet in that decade a formidable force emerged in the Peruvian women’s squad, which had won several regional titles in the 1970s under Japanese coach Akira Kato. South Korean Man Bok Park took the reigns from Kato after he passed away in 1982 and that same year the team made its first impact on the global stage with a second-place showing at the World Championship. Peru reached fourth and barely missed the medals in the 1984 Olympics but four years later the team would reach its pinnacle.
Nicknamed “Las Hijas del Sol” (“The Sun's Daughters”), the team qualified for the 1988 Summer Games and was undefeated in its three preliminary matches. The semifinal match was a tricky affair against Japan but Peru won three sets to two and made it for the first time ever to the gold medal match.
Peru was the underdog against a formidable Soviet squad that won gold at the 1980 Olympics. Yet the team led by Natalia Málaga, Cecilia Tait and Gabriela Pérez del Solar jumped out to capture the first two sets and was three points away from winning the third when the match suddenly changed:
Soviet coach Nicolai Karpol called a timeout and made three changes and watched as his team came from behind to win the third set, then the fourth and take the first six points of the fifth. But Peru were not finished. They clawed their way back to 7-7, fell behind again, then went in front 15-14. But after both teams had fought off match points it was the Soviet Union who prevailed, 10-15, 12-15, 15-13, 15-7, 17-15.The Peruvian team earned the silver and received a hero’s welcome upon returning to their home country that included tens of thousands of fans gathered at Lima’s National Stadium.
Sadly since the 1988 Olympics Peruvian women’s volleyball has been in decline both on the regional and international levels. The team has not qualified for the Summer Games since 2000 and they will once again be absent this year in London. The junior team has made some headway in recent years and perhaps they could soon reach the lofty heights reached by the famed squad that nearly secured one of the greatest upsets in Olympics history.
Video Source – YouTube via aleuzenev
Online Sources – RPP, FIVB