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Joël Despaigne: history and training of the devil from Cuba that made the volleyball world tremble

By Egle Damini / LUZ
Born in 1966, Cuban nationality, 1.91 metres tall: Joël Despaigne is undoubtedly one of the best volleyball players of the last century, and with 350 appearances in the national team and Gold at the World Cup in 1989, the champion from Santiago helped to bring Cuban volleyball into history.

An excellent spiker, Despaigne's strength, in addition to being able to spike at a height of more than three meters, is that he has always been to keep his feet on the ground. Humble and shy, Joël Despaigne has always played for his country, despite the many proposals he received from abroad at a time when Cuba did not allow its players to go to other countries. To those who’ve asked him about those years, Despaigne always answered:

I certainly didn't get rich, but I did confront myself with the best in the world. That's my pride.

At the age of 14, he began to play in the youth championships, at 17 he arrived for the first time in Italy with the Under 21 World Cup, where Cuba won the bronze medal. Only a year later, Despaigne was already the youngest player in the national team. His strong point was the spike, which he made with a jump of more than a meter, accompanied by a scream that earned him the nickname "El Diablo". In 1989, the Cuban national team won the World Cup, and Despaigne's contribution was fundamental.

The following year, the International Volleyball Federation proclaimed Joël “El Diablo” Despaigne Best Player in the World.

At that point, the scream of el Diablo Despaigne reached Italy. It was the golden age of the Azzurri – the nickname with which the Italian national team members are known as, of Julio Velasco and the World Cup in Brazil in 1990. The "Generation of champions" keeps an eye on the national team of Despaigne, aware that it will give it a hard time.

The clash, in fact, did not take long to arrive.

On October 28, the two teams descended into the arena of Maracanãzinho in Rio de Janeiro to play a match destined to go down in history. After the first match won by Cuba, Italy stared to get serious, but it always found the solid barrier of Despaigne, who blocked eight match-points in a row.

Italy had to react and made it thanks to Bernardi's spike, winning the world championship for the first time. After that defeat, Despaigne's early '90s were marked by change.

last minute ball save
El Diablo Despaigne eventually left Cuba and moved to Greece, playing for Iraklis in Thessaloniki. In 1996, he finally arrived first in Catania and then in Rome, where in 2002 after a shoulder injury he ended his career as a player. But not his stay in Italy.

Of course, Cuba is the real home of Joël Despaigne. For he has his relatives and friends, as well as an entire nation that still celebrates him as a hero; but Italy is also very dear to him, a country that has always welcomed him and that he loves for the warmth that its people have always shown him. Today Joel Despaigne has stopped being "el Diablo" on the volleyball court and he has become coach of IHF Volley Frosinone and technical manager of the youth sector.

He teaches boys and girls how a real champion plays volleyball: by having fun and entertaining the crowd.

Analysis of a volleyball player

William G. Morgan invented volleyball in 1895 in Holyoke, Massachusetts, thinking about a less physical alternative to basketball, which had been invented only for years prior in Springfield, always in Massachusetts. Despite volley still today does not involve physical contact between opposing players (at least, intentionally), this sport is by far considered as one of the fastest and most energetic of all.
A deadly spike for an assured point
Unsurprisingly, these characteristics make professional volleyball players like Despaigne amazing athletes, fast thinkers and with sharp reflexes. Indeed, nature of the sport requires players to flash up and down their half of the court, salvaging balls, jumping to spike, block and serve and returning as quickly as possible to their initial positions.

One interesting feature that separates volleyball from other sports is the short length of the volleyball court, with each half (9 x 9 metres) being further subdivided for 5 players. Yet, volleyball players must muster endless amount of stamina and mental focus, to stay sharp and always ready to attack and defend.

The Azzurri of 2014
As a result, volleyball players tend to be lean, muscular and elongated, with the only distinction of the libero, whose body mass is more suited to defend. Players usually have broad shoulders and tonic arms, necessary to imprint power to the ball when serving and spiking. This body feature defines athletes like Despaigne, whose height and body frame makes him the incredible spiker he once was.
The physique of a crusher must be slender, agile and powerful.
However, legs are not to be forgotten: in truth, these are the constant source of power for volleyball players. As such, legs need to be lean and strong, apt to make the athlete rush in the court and jump to either spike or block. A clear example of how having strong legs in volleyball matters comes from Despaigne, who could jump one metre and achieve a total mid-air height of 3 metres, which allowed him to deal some crushing spikes.

3 exercises to spike like Despaigne

As in every other Olympic sport, gym training is an essential component in the athletic preparation of the sportsman. For volleyball, we will explore three exercises that will make your legs, arms and shoulders readier to sustain the prolonged effort of a volleyball match, and make you spike like Joël Despaigne:

Clean and Jerk

Start with feet shoulder-width apart and hold the barbell approximately two inches away from your shins. Push your hips back and grab the barbell so your palms are facing your body and your hands are shoulder-width apart. Keep your hips down, chest lifted, eyes forward and arms long.
Clean
Keep your core very tight and drive through your heels to pull the bar quickly up to your chest, just in front of your collarbone. Keep your spine tall. Be explosive and fast in your movement as you pull the bar, keeping it as close to your body as you can.
Jerk
As soon as the bar reaches your chest, drive through your heels again, press the directly overhead, and straighten your arms and legs. Keep your core very tight. Return to starting position with control.

Explosive Lat Machine Tractions

Set the weights to your personal best. Set the seat height so your feet are flat on the floor and your knees are comfortably under the pad. Then reach up to grab the bar a little wider than your elbows.
Series of lat machine pulldown
As you are pulling down vigorously, keep your chest tall, pull the bar down to your collarbone or upper chest, and squeeze your shoulder blades, with your elbows headed behind your back. Hold the position for one second. If your shoulder blades are not moving, your muscles are not being used efficiently. Repeat the exercise for a maximum of 2-3 times per set.

Jump Squat

This exercise can be done with or without a barbell. However, to obtain the maximum effect from this exercise, we recommend to familiarize with this movement with a mobility stick first, and then performing the exercise with an unloaded barbell.
Sequence of jump squats
With the barbell correctly placed on your shoulders and trapezium, keep your back straight and contracted, slowly descending and flexing your knees, pushing your buttocks outside. Descend until your legs are parallel to the ground. Then, give yourself a quick boost by holding the barbell firmly on your back. In mid-air, keep your body straight. Land by returning to the squat position.

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