Berg wants gold before ending volleyball career

Berg wants gold before ending volleyball career

Published Jul. 27, 2012 1:17 p.m. ET

Lindsey Berg only has 17 more days before she walks away from volleyball for good.

But before that, she'd like an Olympic gold medal.

Berg is captain of the U.S. women's national team, which has never won gold. The team is among the favorites when the volleyball competition at the London Games opens Saturday.

During training in London this week, the three-time Olympian was emphatic about her impending retirement.


''I'm OK with being done,'' she said. ''But I've still got work to do.''

Berg has been a mainstay on the national team since 2003. She has also played professionally in Italy for seven years and volleyball has provided a comfortable lifestyle.

But the sport has taken its toll. Berg says her knees hurt ''all the time.'' And while Italy was a life-changing experience, playing professionally and being on the U.S. team was a nearly year-round job.

''I've had an incredible run. It was amazing and it changed my life. I grew up,'' she said. ''But it's not as easy as it looks.''

She's not looking past the task in London.

The United States won the silver medal at the Beijing Games, falling to Brazil in the final match.

Coach Lang Ping retired afterward and Hugh McCutcheon, coach of the gold medal-winning U.S. men's team, shifted over to the women's side for the four-year period leading to London. Since then, the team has gone 99-37.

The United States took over top spot in the world rankings at the end of 2011, ending Brazil's four-year run at No. 1. The women qualified for the Olympics in November with a silver-medal finish in the FIVB World Cup.

The Brazilian women are ranked second by volleyball's international governing body, and as the defending Olympic champions they're considered among the favorites in London with the United States. Both teams play in the same pool along with China, Serbia, Turkey and South Korea.

Italy, Russia, Japan, Algeria, the Dominican Republic and host Britain make up the other six-team pool.

The top four teams to emerge out of each pool will advance to the quarterfinals. The medal matches at Earls Court are set for Aug. 11.

The United States opens against South Korea on Saturday night.

Berg acknowledges the Olympics can be unpredictable, especially in volleyball where the margins between teams at the elite level are so slim. That said, she's never been as confident about a team as she is about this one.

''I just know that this is a gold-medal team,'' she said. ''And that just gives me goose bumps.''

Earlier this week, Berg visited Earls Court, where both the men's and women's competition will be played on alternating days.

On Twitter, she posted a picture of the venue and said Earls Court was ''now USA's Court.''

''I think its important that athletes feel comfortable, and that they aspire and hope to try to win this thing,'' McCutcheon said. ''That's part of being here. I think every team has the dream, to win the Olympic Games. So if she feels that expressing that publicly is an appropriate way to validate her hopes and dreams, that's great.

''But the reality is, there are six great teams here and anyone who get out of this pool will be lucky to get out of this pool. Then you've got to deal with the quarters, the semis and the final. There's a lot of work to do.''

Berg says her confidence springs from the team's chemistry.

''We've learned to communicate,'' she said. ''We've developed a respect and a trust for each other on the court. That makes it feel like we're unstoppable.''

Berg grew up in Honolulu and played in college at Minnesota. While she laments she's not the most physically gifted athlete on the team, she's been able to compensate with her court sense and brainy play.

Berg has already collected some mementos to commemorate her career: On her right arm is a small tattoo of seven hash marks, to commemorate her years in Italy. On her left is ''cuore,'' Italian for heart.

There's the silver medal at home, which she hopes will soon be joined by a gold.

And afterward? Berg suggests she'd like to follow her passion for fashion and open a boutique in Los Angeles.

''No, there's no sadness. No regrets,'' she said. ''I've done more than I've ever imagined.''