Sometimes she dreams in Japanese. More and more she dreams in
English. Yoko Zetterlund has a Swedish father and a Japanese
mother, was born in San Francisco and grew up in Tokyo, but she
suffers no identity crisis. Zetterlund knows exactly who she is:
the reserve setter on the U.S. Olympic women's volleyball team.
Tonight she has written on the back of her right hand, in
Japanese, Make everything possible. "That's because when a
backup like me gets into the game," Zetterlund says, "sometimes
things seem impossible."
Japan had jumped to a nine-point lead in the first set against
the U.S. when American coach Terry Liskevych changed setters.
Volleyball is overburdened with emotion--its players celebrate
and console each other with every side out--but Zetterlund slaps
hands with more insistence and waggles her fingers to call plays
with more emphasis than anyone. She is a reminder that Olympic
passion can elicit not only tears but also smiles.
Zetterlund could have played for Japan, if only it had wanted
her. When she was growing up, she was called
gaijin--foreigner--because of her mixed heritage. "I was kinda
sad when I was little," Zetterlund says, "because I wished I
could be part of their world. I worked hard to understand
Japanese culture. I hung in." She played volleyball while
attending prestigious Waseda University in Tokyo, where the game
was not much better than in U.S. college intramurals.
She did not impress the Japanese federation. In 1991, at the age
of 21, she was given a tryout by the Americans. Zetterlund
didn't understand how all the words she heard on the court
related to volleyball, but she set well enough to make the 1992
team. Atlanta was her second Olympics. When the players broke
the huddle after a timeout, no one yelled "U-S-A" with more
August 11, 1996
The U.S. women's volleyball team finished a disappointing
seventh in Atlanta, but personal gold medals are won every day
in what Pierre de Coubertin called a festival of extreme effort.
The impossible took less than two hours, as Zetterlund helped
the U.S. come from behind to beat Japan, and at the postmatch
press conferences, when Liskevych said, "Yoko did a great job,"
Zetterlund lowered her eyes. And smiled.