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Lang eyes fresh spike in fortunes

By Xue Yanwen and Yao Youming | China Daily | Updated: 2017-04-07 07:00

Lang eyes fresh spike in fortunes

File photo of Lang Ping

Revered coach ready for Tokyo challenge after sticking with Team China, Xinhua's Xue Yanwen and Yao Youming write.

Lang Ping is ready to inject new life into Chinese volleyball after deciding against retirement in order to remain coach of the women's national team.

The 57-year-old ended months of speculation about her future by signing a new contract with the Chinese Volleyball Association in late March.

Years of competing at the highest level have taken a toll on Lang, but the icon was undeterred by her fitness woes and accepted a newly created "chief coach" role with the team she steered to the 2015 World Cup title and Olympic gold at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The challenge of retaining those crowns when Tokyo hosts both the 2019 World Cup and the 2020 Olympics is spurring Lang on in her recovery from hip surgery.

"There's a saying among sportspeople: One should start from scratch the moment he or she steps off the podium," said Lang, the only person to win Olympic gold as both a player and coach.

"It's seven months since China won the gold medal in Rio. The world title is in the past. We must prepare ourselves for all the challenges in Tokyo."

Lang has had over 10 surgeries, the most recent in January to repair a hip injury that threatened to end her involvement with the national team.

However, she is confident of making a complete recovery "as soon as possible with active rehabilitative training".

In deference to her situation, the CVA created the new chief coach position for Lang, whose burden has been reduced by the appointment of An Jiajie, her assistant in Rio, as executive coach.

An will be responsible for routine training, with Lang overseeing planning. Lai Yawen, China's captain at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, remains as team leader.

"As chief coach, I will focus on team navigation and fostering young coaches," said Lang, who won gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

She is particularly anxious to evaluate new talent ahead of Tokyo 2020.

Nine of the 25 players on the most recent women's squad were called up for the first time, indicating a determination to nurture rising stars.

"How many people knew about Zhu Ting when I put her into the squad four years ago?" said Lang, dubbed "The Iron Hammer" during a glittering playing career as an ace spiker.

"Zhu has the gift, but was not strong enough at that time. I was not strong enough when I was young," she said. "But if you don't try them, you will never know. Maybe we can surprise everyone."

Thanks to Lang, Zhu has developed into a versatile spiker. The 22-year-old was named the Most Valuable Player in the 2015 World Cup and at the Rio Olympics, and now plays for Vakifbank in Turkey.

Blocker Yang Hanyu, at 18 the youngest member of the squad, is one player hoping to benefit from Lang's guidance and boldness in selection.

"I'm like a blank piece of paper in the national team. I will grasp the opportunity to study everything from the beginning," Yang said.

Women's volleyball was the only sport mentioned in President Xi Jinping's New Year speech, when he praised China's "extraordinary and unforgettable year" on the court.

With Lang at the helm, the prospect of more golden years looks even more likely.

 

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