July 17, 2012
Scott Fortune put himself in position to deliver "The Golden Spike" to give the United States men's volleyball team the gold medal over the USSR at the 1988 Seoul Games. But he undoubtedly was in the right place at the right time.
Fortune, a 1987 All-America at middle blocker for Stanford, took a year off from school to train for the Olympics and became the only collegian to make the U.S. team. He earned enough respect with coach Marv Dunphy that Fortune, even at his young age, was the first middle off the bench.
The Laguna Beach, Calif., native was pushed into volleyball by his mother, Linda, an elementary school teacher who was president of the Laguna Beach Volleyball Club. Scott resisted.
"I didn't want to do it," Fortune told the Philadelphia Daily News. "I said, `Mom, it's a game for girls.'"
Mother knew best, and Fortune not only grew to love the game, he was probably Stanford's greatest overall player, leading the Cardinal into its first NCAA final, in 1989.
The U.S., which included former Stanford star Jon Root, was the defending Olympic champion, but that victory came during the Soviet-boycotted Games of 1984. The U.S. and USSR, a three-time champion, had never played each other for an Olympic title before.
The Soviets won the first set, 15-13, only for the U.S. to rally to with 15-10, 15-4 victories to seize a 2-1 lead.
With the U.S. holding a 14-8 lead in the fourth set, Dunphy brought in Fortune on match point.
"Russia overpassed," Fortune said. "I couldn't believe it. The ball was coming right to me."
Fortune likened the moment to the climactic slow-motion scene in the film "The Natural."
This time, Robert Redford's athletic hero role was taken by the 6-foot-6 Fortune, whose eyes grew large as he uncoiled his body to slam the slam the ball back across the net and down to the floor, giving the U.S. a 15-8 victory and the gold medal.
"I still have that on tape," Fortune said to the Daily News in 1992. "Sometimes, when I don't feel like practicing, I pop it in the VCR and watch it again. It gets me going every time."
Fortune would play in two more Olympic Games, but never again collected gold.
The play would have been even sweeter if Linda had been there to witness it. She suffered from cancer - and continued to teach in wheelchair until she died in 1987.
"My biggest regret is she died the year before the Olympics," Fortune told the Daily News.
After the Games, Fortune's first stop was to his mother's grave.
"I wanted to share the moment with her," Fortune said. "I always tell myself, my gold medal belongs to her, not to me."
* * *
The 1988 Games included another Stanford-influenced team gold. Only this one was not official.
Baseball was labeled a "demonstration sport" in Seoul when the U.S., coached by Stanford's Mark Marquess, beat Japan, 5-3, to win a tournament that did not include World Cup champion Cuba, which declined to participate.
Stanford's Ed Sprague Jr., and Doug Robbins were part of that U.S. team that did receive medals, but not the `official' medals awarded to the other Olympic champions.
Baseball became an official Olympic sport in 1992.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics
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