LOS ANGELES (Jul. 25)
The Olympic Development Program, created by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), was underway in the early 1970′s, and in 1975 it began to make a change in women’s volleyball. After a slow start, because there were no professional volleyball coaches in America, the USOC turned to a professional from Israel who happened to be available because he was studying for a doctorate at the University of Illinois.
Arie Selinger is a tough man, made so by his early life. He had coached tough men and women in Israel, and he applied the same methods and demanded the same results when he was put in charge of the United States women’s volleyball program. “We hate him on the court and love him after practice,” said one player, backing away so the reporter couldn’t see her name on the back of her warmup suit.
Within four years he brought the U.S. up from a possible 16th to 20th ranking worldwide to a position in the top ten. His team was working hard, first located at the Houston suburb of Pasadena, Texas, and then the Olympic Training Center at Colorado Springs. The squad qualified for the 1980 Moscow Games, but fell apart when the U.S. boycotted the Olympics.
Half the team left, but Selinger worked with the rest, rebuilding and working. The spirit of the team rose when the team was moved to Orange Country, Calif. In the past three years, the Americans have won their share of international meets, defeating the Japanese and Chinese as much as losing to them, and earning a substantial edge over other national teams that they have met — many of them in their home courts.
Experienced observers are betting that the Americans will win a medal, and some of them see a gold sheen on it.
A HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR
Selinger was born in 1937 in the Krakow ghetto of Poland. His family hid out in the woods for two years during World War II, but were finally captured and sent to Bergen-Belsen, spending three years at that concentration camp.
In 1945 they were on a train to Auschwitz which broke down. While being herded along a road, the column was captured by Americans, who liberated the prisoners. Selinger’s mother remained in Poland, seeking her husband, while the eight-year-old Arie was able to go to Palestine through the American Red Cross.
He first took up track at Kibbutz Ein Hamisratz, but changed to volleyball in 1952. He moved up quickly, first as a player on the national team from 1955 to 1961 then as coach of his club team from 1961 to 1969, and coach of the national women’s team from 1965 to 1969.
As a player he participated in the 1956 World Meet, and in the 1957 and 1961 Maccobiah Games. The Israeli teams finished second to Brazil both years. His national women’s team finished seventh in the 1967 World Meet.
His experiences as a youngster in the woods of Poland, combined with life on the kibbutz, have hardened Selinger. “I may be demanding,” he says. “But I only demand what I known can be accomplished.” His training schedule is probably as grueling as any in the world — men’s or women’s — but he feels that he is not asking too much of his players. They are dedicated to the goal of a gold medal as much as he is, he believes, and they are all working together to achieve that goal.