MIR’s 30 Years:  1980s Volleyball Diplomacy, & MIR’s Beginning

In 1986, the mood was very difficult between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. Most of the information we had was negative about the Soviet Union. You know, this was the “Evil Empire.” Most people didn’t really know much about the Soviet Union, actually, because most of the information we got was ‘disinformation.’ Most of it was negative; it was: “This is the enemy and we should be afraid of them.” 1986 was when Gorbachev was in power, and he first came out with the words of “glasnost” and “perestroika” – “openness” and “reconstruction.” And he was opening the door, opening the door for U.S.S.R. and United States relations. That was the time that MIR started. All during the late ’70s and ’80s the Soviets dominated men’s volleyball. I mean, they were the team to beat in the world. I was a major volleyball fan and player since I was six years old. One of my goals even before going to college was I always wanted to make the Olympics, and I wanted to play against the Soviets. The Soviet Olympic volleyball team and U.S. Olympic volleyball team came to Seattle to do an exhibition match. I and my father were involved in organizing the match itself, and it gave me a chance to meet some of the Soviet players and coaches. Took some of them out on the town to show them Seattle; we had a very good time. During that evening, the assistant coach for the Olympic team said, “Why don’t we do an amateur volleyball exchange?” And I said, “Sure! I would love to do that!” Of course – not knowing what I was getting myself into! But that’s how it started. The next thing I knew I was getting a telex from them, maybe two or three months later that said, “We agree volleyball exchange, two for one. Come and sign the papers.’” Very broken little Western Union telex because there were no fax machines or even email or anything at that time. We called it “Volleyball for Peace,” because again this was at the time of “perestroika,” and we’re going to do it as a citizen exchange – but with a volleyball theme. We ended up with two men’s teams, and one women’s team as well. There was about 42 people altogether. We traveled over to the Soviet Union and went to four different cities. and they had good volleyball teams there. We played matches in each city against club teams; usually those club teams had one or two Olympic players on them. The experience itself was, for me, just a life-changing situation. It just opened me up to understanding the world better, and also erasing some of the negative news, because here I was — it was like, how can these – these are the people we thought were so evil, and they’re just volleyball players just like me. I was invited into some people’s homes, and talked about the differences and similarities of the U.S. and U.S.S.R., and just this heart-to-heart exchange with people that really changed me. Having that experience opened me up to doing more with the Soviet Union.

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