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Olympics

Men's Olympic volleyball preview

SI.com's writers will preview each event from the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Here, Beverly Oden looks ahead to men's Olympic indoor volleyball.

Clay Stanley, U.S.: The Beijing MVP returns for his third Olympic Games. The 6-foot-9 opposite is still an integral offensive threat from both the front and back row.

SPORTS EXPLAINERS: VOLLEYBALL

He is consistently a scoring leader for the Americans in hitting, blocking and serving and is the bedrock of the U.S. team's success.

Matt Anderson, U.S.: Matt Anderson, 25, is a first-time Olympian who shoulders a large part of the offense for the U.S. team. The 6-foot-10 outside hitter has made tremendous progress over the last two years to become one of the best attackers in the world and is capable of scoring runs of points with the strength of his jump serve.

Bartosz Kurek, Poland: Competing in his first Olympics, Kurek is a 6-foot-8 outside hitter who at only 22 years old was named best scorer at the 2011 world league tournament. He led his team to a victory at the same tournament this year. An exciting hitter with a big arm swing, look for Kurek to lead his team in scoring in London.

Maxim Mikhaylov, Russia: Named MVP and best blocker at the 2011 world league competition, this 6-foot-8 opposite led his team to a bronze medal in Beijing. He is known for his big jump and his lethal attack, which is extremely difficult to defend against.

The U.S. men's volleyball team enters the London Olympics ranked fifth in the world but as the defending gold medalist, this team will not be overlooked. Six Beijing Olympians return and the Americans added several great first-time Olympians including Matt Anderson and Russell Holmes. After struggling through the quad and finishing no higher than fifth in major international competition, the U.S. coaching staff settled on a lineup that seems to be finding its stride just in time to make a run at the medal round. A surprising silver medal finish at World League just three weeks before the start of the Games should give the team a confidence boost for London. The team's strengths include a strong block and several effective offensive weapons that allow them to compete with the best in the world when they are playing well. The question for the Americans is ball control and consistency as they are prone to passing breakdowns. If they are able to harness the flashes of brilliance they've shown intermittently over the last three months, they will be a serious contender.

Competition is tight in men's volleyball so London is shaping up to be a very exciting and unpredictable competition. Brazil is No. 1 in the world, but enters the Olympics having performed below its standard at the last international tournament, missing the medal round at world league for the first time since 1998. They'll be looking to rebound in London and will take on No. 2 Russia in pool play on July 31. Also watch out for the gold medal rematch between Brazil and U.S. on Aug. 2nd.

Any of the top six teams -- Brazil, Russia, Poland, U.S., Italy, Serbia -- could catch fire at the right time and make a run for the gold medal. Outside of the top six, No. 10 Germany performed well in world league competition, making the final round for the first time in history. Also keep an eye on No. 22 Australia, a surprising team with great size that qualified for the Olympics at the last opportunity by upsetting Asian champion Iran and No. 11 China.

-- U.S. setter Donald Suxho was born in Albania and played for the national team there. He moved to the U.S. in 1996 and was named the national player of the year after his senior season at USC. He became an American citizen in 2001 and competed for Team USA in the 2004 Olympics in Sydney. He missed Beijing with a ruptured Achilles, making him the only previous Olympian on the team without a gold medal.

-- The libero is a defensive specialist position that was added to the international game in 1999 to increase ball control and lengthen rallies. The libero wears a different colored jersey than the rest of the team and operates under special rules. For example, the libero rotates across the back row but is the only player that never rotates to the front row. The libero cannot serve, block, attack the ball from above the height of the net or set an attacker while standing in front of the three-meter line.

Aug. 12