Chiaka Ogbogu chased her gold medal dream and won

(News4usonline) – The U.S. women’s volleyball team finally hit paydirt with a gold medal win at the Tokyo Olympics. After decades of futility,  the Americans defeated Brazil to capture the U.S. women’s volleyball first ever gold medal during the Olympics.

History has been made. It is an achievement that has never been reached by an American women’s volleyball team. Middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu can vouch for what it feels like to do something that’s never been accomplished.

Ogbogu is a first generation American in her family. Born in New York and raised in Texas, Ogbogu’s mom and dad left Nigeria for a better life in the United States.

That better life has presented an opportunity for Ogbogu to become one of the best volleyball players in the country.

After all, Ogbugo is a contributing member of Team USA, the No. 1 ranked women’s volleyball team in the world coming into the Summer Games. Being a part of the USA Volleyball team as  an Olympian and representing the Red, White, and Blue, is something very meaningful for her family, Ogbogu said. 

USA Women’s Volleyball player Chiaka Ogbogu (24) makes a play against Servia May 31, 201. Photo credit: USA Volleyball

“I think it means the world,” Ogbogu remarked in a Zoom interview. “I really feel like I understand my journey more when I am with my family members. I’m a first generation American, so it’s just a testament in general about just how far my family has come.

The 6-foot-2 Ogbogu said her family have had to remind her just how far they’ve come.

“For me, being a first generation American representing America…I didn’t really realize how much it meant to my family until I had conversations with all of them,” Ogbogu said. “My grandma was like, ‘You are the first to represent our country like this. Like how cool is this? We’ve all aspired to have our children to grow up here. So for you to be representing what we’ve all dedicated our lives to get to is really cool.’ I don’t know. I realize it’s bigger than me.”

Chasing down the gold medal for the U.S. women’s volleyball team is bigger than one person. It’s legacy. Winning a gold medal was something that escaped Team USA. That is until the U.S. women’s volleyball team handled the Brazilians in three sets on the last day of competition at the Olympics.

Prior to playing in this year’s Olympics, the U.S. women’s volleyball team had always come up short in trying to win gold. That drought began in 1964, the first year that the U.S. women’s volleyball team began competing in the Olympics. That volleyball team went 1-4 and finished fifth.

The best showings the U.S. women’s volleyball team could boast about until this point had been three silver medals (1984, 2008, 2012) and two bronze medals (1992, 2016).

USA Women’s Volleyball member Chiaka Ogbogu (24) in action against the Dominican Republic in 2019. Photo Credit: USA Volleyball

Outside of losing to the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) in a July 30 match, the Americans didn’t lose again. The countries the U.S. women’s volleyball team defeated along the way to the championship game were China, Turkey, Italy, Argentina, Dominican Republic, and Serbia.

Winning a gold medal is a combination of luck, talent and health. Before she and her Olympic teammates broke training camp to head over to Tokyo, Ogbogu, who starred at the University of Texas, talked about what it would take for the team to breakthrough. 

“I think it’s going to take being connected at the right time,” Ogbogu said. “I know everyone in almost every sport says it takes a little bit of luck as well. But I think we are heading in the right direction to put ourselves in position to get there.”

With this being her first time competing in the Olympic Games, Ogbogu said camaraderie and team depth would have a say in how far the U.S. women’s volleyball team would go.    

“I think we gel very well as a team,” Ogbogu stated. “And the depth, honestly. I think we pride ourselves in the depth that we have. I don’t think every country can say that. We definitely have 12 of the greatest players playing. You really can pull names out of a hat and start anyone. I have no doubt that they can get the job done and do it well.”    

When Ogbogu speaks of pulling names out of a hat she knows a thing or two about this having gone up against these women in direct competition. The U.S. women’s volleyball team is loaded with players lined up with Olympic, Pan American and world championship experience. Making the team wasn’t easy, she said.

Chiaka Ogbogu (24) doing work against China in a 2019 match. Photo credit: USA Volleyball

“Very tough as you can imagine, especially at my position, the middle position,” said Ogbogu. “We are very deep there, but also it worked out to my benefit too because I have great role models to look up to. A lot of the players, when I first came in, were older. So it was nice to get to learn the ropes from them. It’s been a good thing. It’s been great getting to learn from those in the middles, and obviously, take parts of their game to build up my own.”

When she found out she had made the team the emotions just flowed out, Ogbogu said.

“Oh I cried,” commented Ogbogu. “I did cry. I cried. We were in Rimini, Italy, competing for five weeks in a  tournament called [Volleyball Nations League], so we each had individual meetings and I was told that I was selected for this roster, and I don’t know what came over me. I erupted into tears. I was speechless. I have some moments where I have to pinch myself because it still doesn’t feel real, honestly.”

Ogbogu’s excitement on making the U.S. women’s volleyball team is sort of reflective of her personality. Every team needs a player or two that can bring that rah-rah spirit. Ogbogu said that’s part of what she does for the team.

“I would like to say I’m a great hype woman,” Ogbogu said. “It’s not that you don’t get those chances in any other sports, but I really do love the closeness of volleyball and the fact that we’re always coming together. It’s a unique sport. I think [with] basketball, obviously, you’re exchanging different sides of the court, but with volleyball you’re with your team on your side of the court. You always have that close interaction with them. It’s really just them.”

The tight-knit atmosphere of volleyball is what allows for her persona to come out even more, Ogbogu said.

“I like the fact that there is an emphasis on our side and I think that contributes to my personality,” Ogbogu chimed. “I can focus on the things that I can control first before I worry about other things, the things that I can control within myself. So, it kind of contributes to what I like most about volleyball. It’s all like focused on our sides first before we worry about what’s happening across the net.”