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Golden girls back on glory trail

By SHI FUTIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2021-07-22 09:03
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Team China, guided by legendary head coach Lang Ping (center), is chasing the country's fourth gold medal in the women's Olympic volleyball tournament, having triumphed in 1984, 2004 and 2016. [Photo/Xinhua]

China's all-conquering women's volleyball team locked and loaded for Olympic title defense

For Team China's women's volleyball players, the target at the Tokyo Olympics is clear-standing on the highest podium once more with gold medals around their necks.

Spearheaded by star spiker Zhu Ting and guided by legendary coach Lang Ping, Team China arrived in Japan on Monday raring to get the defense of its 2016 Rio Olympics title underway after a prolonged preparation period due to the pandemic.

"We are ready. We have been preparing for five years, and now we are excited," 60-year-old Lang told media upon arrival in Tokyo.

"We finally have the chance to start our Olympic journey. I hope we can produce good performances here and win glory for our nation.

"The Olympic Games is different from other tournaments, and each match can be very difficult. But the team will try its best to fight for each point in each game."

Team China completed its first training session on Tuesday, when Lang told Xinhua that her team is braced for tough challenges ahead.

"Even though some of our players played at the Rio Games and boast a lot of experience, our rivals have also grown over the past five years," said Lang.

"We cannot just copy and paste our pace from the Rio Games, so we need to start everything from zero at the Tokyo Olympics.

"The European teams are more mature now. It's tough for us because we don't have a clear advantage. We need to be prepared for all difficulties. We cannot wait for rivals to attack, we need to be proactive and put them under pressure."

Towering leader

As a serial winner of volleyball's elite honors, captain Zhu-a dominating presence at the net at 1.98 meters tall-remains the team's biggest star.

The 26-year-old is joined in an experienced squad by fellow spikers Zhang Changning, Liu Xiaotong, Li Yingying and Liu Yanhan, middle blockers Yuan Xinyue, Wang Yuanyuan and Yan Ni, and setters Yao Di and Ding Xia. Wang Mengjie will play as the libero, while the opposite hitter is Gong Xiangyu.

"The coaching team has been considering the Olympic roster for a long time. We needed to select players who can combine well with each other in Tokyo," said coach Lang before departing for the Games.

"We have been closely monitoring the condition of all the players, especially considering we hadn't played any international tournaments for nearly two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We paid particular attention to those who had played fewer matches, so we know if they have enough ability to improvise and if they can cooperate well with the veterans.

"During our preparation, we experimented with substitutes playing with the core players. And we conducted a lot of statistical analysis of each day's training. But of course, we didn't just focus on the numbers."

The year 2020 presented unprecedented challenges to Lang's squad. With international tournaments canceled due to the pandemic, Team China attempted to stay sharp as best it could in training.

Last month the long wait for competitive action ended when Lang's squad participated in the Volleyball Nations League in Rimini, Italy. Missing key players in the early stages, China got off to shaky start, before racking up six straight wins when the first-choice players returned to the court.

Despite failing to make the semifinals, the tournament served as a vital tuneup for Tokyo, with victories over Brazil, Italy, the Netherlands and the United States boding well for the title defense.

Team China will open its Olympic campaign against Turkey on Sunday before taking on the US two days later. China's Group B rivals also include Russia, Italy and Argentina.

Lang's squad is currently ranked third in the world, behind the US and Brazil.

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