David Lee Leaves Rio with A Bronze Medal
By Sylvia Rodemeyer and Janis Carr
As soon as the last ball was spiked, Cal State Long Beach’s David Lee and his fellow U.S. volleyball teammates wrapped themselves in American flags as the crowd chanted “USA! USA!” It was a memorable moment for the U.S. men’s volleyball team, who took home an Olympic bronze medal at the Rio Games.
While winning bronze wasn’t what any of them had hoped, the Americans had plenty to celebrate. Lee, team captain, helped them win four consecutive matches to reach the medal round after dropping their first two.
Before leaving for this third Olympics, Lee talked about his previous experience in the Games, including winning a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
What makes these games special to you? This Olympic Games is special to me because it is my last Olympic Games. I will not be competing in Tokyo in the next Olympics, so this is my last hurrah and this is me putting everything out there for hopefully a good result.
How does preparing for your third Olympics differ? Obviously my first was when I was a young guy and we had one of the oldest teams, so there wasn’t much I had to do besides play ball. This time around I’m one of the veteran guys and I think my role has changed quite a bit. I think I have to be more of a vocal presence and mentor the younger athletes and help them be ready for a tournament that is unlike any other tournament.
What skills from your days at CSULB do you take with you on or off the court in your current life? I feel like college is where I had most of my fundamental volleyball skills training. It’s where I learned to be a reed blocker—the idea to touch the opponents quick and block the outside hitters—so I think that a lot of my basic skills were fine-tuned there.
Where do you keep your 2008 Olympic Gold? My medal is with my family in Alpine, California. They have a special shrine dedicated to me with my Olympic medals, World Cup medals, World League Medals and various trophies throughout my career.
What opportunities have being an Olympic athlete or a member of the national team afforded you? Any surprises? Obviously winning a gold medal was a pretty big surprise. I wasn’t really sure this is where this life would take me. I knew I had the chance to play with the junior team when I was younger, but you never know how far you’re going to continue, you never know what the competition is going to be like and you never know how long your career is going to be—due to injury or other players out competing you or beating you. So I would say the opportunity to play in the Olympics is one of the biggest things the national team has afforded me. Also, the travel—to see the world. Our sport is not played here in the states very often. We play one or two tournaments a year if we’re lucky, but most of our games are international, so getting to see the world and getting a broader perspective of the world is one of the greatest gifts being on the international team has given me.
Do you have any pre-game rituals? I’m not really superstitious at all, but during the World Cup I did wear the same brand of undershorts for every game and that was very unlike me. Normally I don’t have anything I stick to. You just prepare the same way, you focus on every point…And I never really think about tying my left shoe or my right shoe, but for that tournament I did.