Olympic volleyball: Nearly 10 years later, Tom will play for gold medal

Team will meet Brazil in the gold-medal round
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BEIJING - At long last, Logan Tom is going to play for a gold medal.

Nearly 10 years and two crushing disappointments after leaving Highland High School as probably the greatest volleyball player in state history, Tom finally secured a place in the gold-medal match of the Beijing Olympics with an emotional and dominating 25-20, 25-16,

25-17 victory over powerful nemesis Cuba at the Capital Gymnasium on Thursday.

"It's an amazing roll right now," Tom said, tears coming to her eyes.

"It's years and years and years of work and sacrifice and dedication, along with a lot of these girls. We've sweated and bled and we've cried together in the past couple of Olympics."

Now, the Americans will play Saturday for gold for the first time since the 1984 Los Angeles Games, when they lost to China and current coach Lang Ping. They will play Brazil, which eliminated the defending Olympic champion Chinese 27-25, 25-22, 25-15 in the other semifinal.

"It's going to be crazy," outside hitter Kim Glass said.

Amid the frenzied celebration that erupted once hitter Kim Willoughby slammed the final kill off the Cuba block and out of bounds, Tom acknowledged wondering if the cherished opportunity she has finally earned would ever come. She left the national team after its

disappointing fifth-place finish at the 2004 Athens Games - the Americans were fourth in Tom's debut at the 2000 Sydney Games - and

returned only last year.

"I've been playing with the national team since I was 15, and that's been bred and beaten into my mind, you know, get a medal in the Olympics. Go for gold, but get a medal," she said. "And I think any volleyball player out there sacrificed a good portion of their life

to do this, and it's worth it. I would say it's worth it, even if we didn't make it here, just for the experience along the way. But it's

damn worth it now that we made it here, I can tell you that much."

Tom has been invaluable since coming back to the team, too.

She's the leading scorer in the tournament, despite having been shaken by the brutal stabbing attack on her former teammate's parents nearly two weeks ago that contributed to a shaky start.

"We're fighting for more than just us," teammate Tayyiba Haneef-Park said.

And since a five-set victory over China in the preliminary round, the Americans have rallied together and become unstoppable. They added two more dramatic comeback victories - over Poland in group play and then Italy in the elimination quarterfinals - before stunning the three-time champion Cubans.

Tom had seven kills, three blocks and an ace against the Cubans, who had swept the Americans in the preliminary round - mostly because of their devastating service and savage hitting. They had lost only three sets in their first six matches here, combined, and "put a foot in our ass," as Tom put it.

In the rematch, though, the Americans were motivated while the Cubans were unusually erratic, making mistake after mistake and committing a staggering 15 service errors. They quickly started to show their frustration, bickering among themselves while the Americans remained ebullient on the other side of the net, seemingly only further troubling their opponents.

"Unbelievable," setter Lindsey Berg said. "We just came out there and fought, and everything was right."

Many of the Cubans walked off the court with tears streaming down their faces, but acknowledged the American effort. "They were amazing," hitter Yaima Ortiz said. "They played a game almost perfect."

That's certainly the way it felt to Tom and the rest of her teammates who have shared the disappointments of the last eight years and will try to subdue their jubilation - if only for a moment - in order to focus on the biggest match of their lives.

"It's easy," Tom said. "I want gold."