Laurent Tillie got the storybook ending to his tenure as the French head coach.
The nation’s longtime coach in his final match guided France to its first Olympic championship as it defeated the Russian Olympic Committee 25-23, 25-17, 21-25, 21-25, 15-12 in the gold-medal match on Sunday in Tokyo.
France after blowing a two-game lead to Russia trailed by three points early in the fifth game. The team, though, rallied to take the lead midway through the decisive game and completed the comeback to become the most unlikely gold-medal winner in the history of the Olympics men’s volleyball tournament.
France (5-3) had a losing record in the preliminary round and became the three-loss team to win the gold medal since men’s volleyball became an Olympic sport in 1964.
Outside attacker Ngapeth in the gold-medal match led all players with 21 kills on a .400 attack percentage en route to being named the most valuable player of the tournament.
This was the second time in the last four matches that Ngapeth had more than 20 kills. The outside attacker ended the Olympics with a tournament-high 124 kills
Ngapeth also had three aces against Russia (6-2). France had nine aces — eight more aces than Russia – with setter Antoine Brizard having a match-high four aces.
Frame libero Jenia Grebennikov defensively led all players with a match-high 14 digs.
Despite the loss, Russia out-hit France .378 to .298 and had two players with more than 15 kills. Outside attacker Egor Kliuka led Russia with 20 kills, while opposite Maxim Mikhaylov added 18 kills on a .382 attack percentage.
France entered the tournament at No. 5 in the world rankings but had never advanced beyond the preliminary round in its five previous Olympic appearances.
It opened the tournament losing two of its first three matches, including a three-game loss to the United States. France rebounded with an upset victory against Russia in pool-play and earned the final quarterfinals berth from Pool B.
France in the nation’s first quarterfinals appearance upset the No. 1 seed Poland and then swept Argentina in the semifinals to reach the gold-medal match.
The championship run for Tillie also comes with his son on the French roster. Former UC Irvine outside attacker Kevin Tillie in his second Olympics came off the bench throughout the tournament as a serving specialist and had a service error in his only serve during the gold-medal match.
While this is the first Olympic men’s volleyball medal for France, Russia’s silver medal is its 10th all-time men’s volleyball medal. Russia has medaled in five of the last six Olympics, including winning the gold medal in 2012.