A triple Olympic champion with Cuba, Regla Torres is a towering figure in women’s volleyball and in 2001 was named Best Female Player of the 20th Century by the sport’s international federation, the FIVB.
Standing a formidable 1.91 metres tall, Regla Torres has dedicated her whole life to volleyball, playing no other sport from the age of eight onwards. Athletic, agile and an outstanding middle blocker and hitter, she starred as a 14-year-old in Cuba’s national youth team before earning a place with the seniors two years later. Her first major international title came in 1991 when Cuba won gold at the Pan-American Games.
Torres was only 17 and still playing for the junior team when she became the youngest Olympic volleyball champion in history at the 1992 Barcelona Games, as Cuba beat the Unified Team 3-1 in the tournament final, a match in which she made a huge impression with her amazing blocking skills. A victor again at the 1993 Junior World Championship and at the World Grand Champions Cup in Tokyo the same year, she then helped Cuba capture the 1994 world title in Brazil, where she was voted the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. By this time the Cubans and their star blocker were in a league of their own.
Cuba’s Olympic title defence at Atlanta 1996 began in less than auspicious fashion when they suffered defeats to Brazil and Russia in the group phase. But with Torres finding her very best form, Cuba recovered and powered their way through the knockout rounds. After seeing off USA 3-0 in the last eight, they earned revenge over the Brazilians with a 3-2 victory in their semi-final before outclassing the previously unbeaten Chinese 3-1 to make off with the gold again. To underline their dominance of women’s volleyball, the Cubans went on to win another world title in Japan in 1998.
On 30 September 2000 Torres and Co made it three Olympic golds in a row when they fought back from two sets down in the final against their old rivals Russia to force a fifth-set tie break, which they duly won 15-7. Never before had a team won three consecutive titles at the Games, a triumphant sequence in which Torres played a central role. As she later revealed, that victory over the Russians is her favourite Olympic memory: “The level was particularly high in the women’s volleyball competition, with all the teams at their very best. I’d also come back from two years of injuries and wasn’t sure if I’d be at my best, and then there was the fact we managed to turn the final around. The gold at Sydney 2000 was very special, the most beautiful of my medals and the most unforgettable moment of my career.” In 2001, the FIVB, volleyball’s governing body, named her the Best Female Player of the 20th Century.
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