Chinese women back to top volleyball world
Updated: 2004-08-29 09:57
Chanting and crying in the lock room, running
around the field with national flags over their heads, waving the gold medals to
the audience, the Chinese players are celebrating their well-deserved victory to
back to the top of the volleyball world after 20 years.
"This is the dream we have striven for since 2000," said Chinese team captain
Feng Kun at the Athens Olympic Games on Saturday, "The competition was cruel,
but at least we can enjoy the Olympic Games now."
With Zhang Yuehong smashing home the match winner, the Chinese women team,
who won its last crown at the 1984 Los Angels Olympics, became the volleyball
Olympic champion with a victory over Russia 28-30, 25-27, 25-20, 25-23 and
"This was a long and tough road since China claimed the title in 1984," said
Chinese head coach Chen Zhonghe with tears in his eyes, "It was 20 years since
then, but not until last year did we know that we had the chance to strive for
volleyball team celebrate victory after the women's volleyball gold medal
match against Russia at Athens 2004 Olympic Games August 28, 2004.China
won the match 3-2. [Reuters]
After winning the silver medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, China was beaten
to fifth four years later in Sydney.
And the year of 2003 became the turning point for the Chinese volleyball team
when it stormed to its first World Cup title in 17 years with a clean sheet
Since then, expectation has been piled upon the shoulders of both the team
and its head coach Chen as fans at home almost demanded an immediate return to
the top of the Olympic podium where fame, fortune and recognition reside.
The moment the Chinese women geared up to relive the glory in Athens, star
middle-blocker Zhao Ruirui suffered her knee injury in April which has greatly
hurt the team, both on the team work and players' confidence.
Chukanova (R) tries to block China's Ping Zhang (L) during their women's
volleyball gold medal match at Athens 2004 Olympic Games August 28, 2004.
Standing 1.97 meters, Zhao, known as "backbone" of the team, was the MVP of
2003 World Cup.
"Zhao's injury has great impacts on us, many players even wept when they
heard the news," said Chen, who himself was also much criticized for trying to
play down the incident, "Zhao played a very important role. Her blocking and
fast-attacking are so efficient that in some way, China team is a Zhao's team."
Her injury thus reasonably made the Chinese team play down its Athens'
prospect, and even said it would only strive for a medal in the 2008 Olympics.
"We were under great pressure at that moment," explained Chen, "Zhao had been
in the team for four years. She almost took part in every game China played.
Middle-blocker is so important a position for our team and we rely on Zhao so
much that we even could not image how we can play against high-flying attacking
teams like Russia and Cuba."
When 22-year-old Zhang Ping took the position of Zhao, few people believed
she could help the team to repeat the glory of the former Chinese team that had
won five straight victories in the World Cup, the World Championships and the
Olympics in the 1980s, or even the triumph at the 2002 World Cup.
Without Zhao, China lost to the United States at the 2004 Grand Prix in July.
But Zhang, who has won the China Volleyball League twice with Tianjin Team in
2002 and 2003, has gained much confidence from the failure, and so did the team.
"Zhang Ping isn't as tall as Zhao and not as well as Zhao in blocking," said
Chen, "But Zhang is a total different player from Zhao, her blitz attacks in the
middle are the best in China."
Zhao Ruirui resumed training after the Grand Prix, four months after her
fracture, and seemed likely to be on the Athens volleyball court.
Wang Lina (L) spikes against Russia's Ekaterina Gamova (11) during
their women's volleyball gold medal match at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games
, August 28, 2004. [Reuters]
"I would enlist Zhao in the Chinese squad, she will start in some matches,"
said Chen before China went to the Olympics, "Even she could not compete for a
whole match, she is still a threat to our rivals, and even on the bench. Besides
that, we had Zhang Ping and our team-work."
But China lost Zhao again to the relapse of her leg injury in the first pool
match against the United States where Zhao played only two minutes. Zhang had to
stand up to face the remaining matches and pressures alone.
"I am Zhang Ping and I won't try to be Zhao Ruirui second," said 1.87-meter
Zhang, who is the best spiker in the 2001 Junior World Championship. "Without
Zhao Ruirui on the court, we are trying to learn to play like a team."
Zhang had a total of 91 successful spikes among her 182 attempts, the best
spiker with 40.66% in the Olympic tournament. And she also ranked fourth in
serving with 10 aces and sixth best scorer with 144 points.
"Zhang did a great job in Athens," said Chen, "I thought she is a very good
player, but her performance still went beyond my prediction."
The Chinese team, tipped by many to win the gold in Athens, was just a little
too much for its opponents. The Chinese women made a 4-1 record in the
round-robin round, only lost to three straight Olympic title holder Cuba 2-3.
However, China kept its clean sheet in the elimination matches, including a
straight-set win over Japan in the quarterfinal and a 3-2 semi-final revenge
against Cuba on Thursday.
After the semifinal victory, Liu Yanan, middle-attacker of China, was happy
"This was unbelievable," said the 23-year-old, "After beaten to fifth place
in Sydney, I never dreamed to enter the final of the Olympic Games so soon, but
dream comes true tonight."
And nothing but a gold medal could made these Chinese women more happy.
"This is not an easy way," said coach Chen after the match, " Both teams
could win the match and we were a little lucky. But as finalists, we will try
our utmost to win the gold, a silver medal is not enough for us."
Paced by the power of outside lethal Ekaterina Gamova, Russia cruised into
the final with a 5-1 record, including a tremendous 3- 2 turnaround over Brazil
in the semi-final.
As one of the strongest teams in the world, Russia vowed to claim the title
as a sweet gift to head coach Nikolai Karpol, who said he would retire after the
And now, the 65-year-old Karpol could only celebrate his retirement with the
"I have entered the Olympic finals six times as a head coach," said Karpol,
"I have won two gold medals and three silvers. I believe it is the right time
for me to finish my career of coaching."
And the 65-year-old famous coach lavished praises on invincible China.
"There was once upon a time that China learned a lot from former Soviet
Union, but now it is the time that we have to learn from China," said Karpol,
"Not only Russia, I think all the other countries in the world should learn from
"Russia is a legend team in the volleyball world," said Chinese coach Chen,
"After so long at the top, they are still among the strongest. That is the aim
we will strike for. We have returned to the top of the podium, and we want to
stay on the podium."
"We won't be a flash in the pan," said Chen.