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Rio 2016: Lang Ping and China earn place in history books

 
Lausanne, Switzerland, December 26, 2016 - More than a quarter of a year after winning gold at the Rio Olympics, that historic success is still occupying China’s golden volleyball legend “Jenny” Lang Ping.

The 55-year-old is yet to decide whether or not to continue her remarkable career as a coach, with the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo on the horizon. "I am getting older and my daughter has a job. We do not have any major pressures, so I will either continue coaching the Chinese women's volleyball team or end my career,” said Lang Ping in an interview with Chinese TV station CCTV.



Lang Ping has achieved something very rare in the volleyball world: Olympic success as both a player and a coach. She won Olympic gold with China as the outstanding hitter at the 1984 games in Los Angeles, where she was also named MVP. 32 years later, she led her home nation of China to the top step of the podium as national team coach in Rio.

“I have not really paid attention to these personal achievements – winning gold as a player and winning gold as a coach,” Lang said. “I love my job and I try to do my best. This is a team sport and I have to see each person in the team to work hard. I also have to make sure that they work hard as a group. The only thing I can say is that I am fortunate to have great people helping me with these achievements.”

It is precisely this team spirit that she has instilled in her young team, of whom few would have expected Olympic victory after the group stage. Her team lost three of their five matches, including against the Netherlands and Serbia. China crept into the Olympic quarterfinals as the fourth-placed team. However, the team then went on to produce one of the biggest shocks of the Olympic Games, much to the huge disappointment of the hosts.

Brazil, Olympic champions from 2008 and 2012, were dethroned 3-2 – and that despite looking set for the golden hat-trick after five wins and not a single dropped set in the group stage.

“There is an incredible feeling of disappointment and emptiness after that defeat,” said Brazil’s coach José Roberto Guimarães, describing the emotions afterwards. Millions of volleyball fans across Brazil felt exactly the same way. At least there was to be some consolation, in the form of gold for the men’s team.



Brazil’s departure from the competition was the biggest shock in a tournament played out in front of tens of thousands of passionate fans – a tournament full of unexpected twists, in which another of the hot favourites was to be denied the ultimate success. Serbia beat volleyball giants Russia (3-0 in the quarterfinals) and USA (3-2 in the semifinals) to progress to the final, where they met China for the second time in Rio. By this point, however, the Chinese were a different team to the one that lost in the group stage, as they had shown in the 3-1 defeat of the Netherlands in the semifinals.

China won the final 3-1 (19-25, 25-17, 25-22, 25-23) to claim a third Olympic gold medal for the women’s team (after 1984 and 2004) and leapfrog Cuba into second place in the all-time best list behind Russia/Soviet Union (four Olympic titles). China’s women are national heroes back home: according to figures received by the FIVB, CCTV had 70 per cent of the viewing audience - over one billion people – in the gold medal match. The red flags of the celebrating Chinese fans also dominated in the Maracanãzinho Arena in Rio.

Now 22-years-old, hitter Zhu Ting was instrumental in the young team’s golden success and was named MVP of the Rio Olympics.



"I think teamwork is the key to China’s victory. Thanks to my teammates’ hard efforts, I had the opportunity to show my spiking skills,” she said humbly, stressing the key role played by coach “Jenny” Lang Ping. "I am very nervous during the match, while Lang Ping told us to focus on every point.” The other semifinalists could also consider themselves winners, although the Serbian ladies understandably had mixed feelings after losing the final. Serbian Brankica Mihajlovic said: “We lost the match, but what we did up to now is unbelievable. I’m so proud of what we did. It’s the first time for Serbia that this is happening.”

The USA took bronze after a 3-1 victory over the Netherlands. “It feels phenomenal. I've gotten to win three gold medals as a player, a silver as a coach and a bronze as a coach. What certainly hurts the most, only because you finish the tournament with a loss, is the silver medal,” said US coach and volleyball legend Karch Kiraly. The Netherlands could also live with a thankless fourth place – after all, the team had exceeded all expectations. Coach Giovanni Guidetti said: "In life and in sport I think you need time to achieve the big results. I think maybe it would have been too early to get a medal in this Olympics. The team needs time to improve and they need to grow up. This is basically our second year of work and our first Olympics so I cannot think of anything better than what we did." And there were other winners: Argentina, Puerto Rico and Cameroon may have gone out in the group stage, but can be proud of making their first appearances at the Olympic Games.

Rio 2016 Olympic Games - Women's volleyball final - Watch video.

All of this only ramps up the anticipation ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games. Perhaps we will see “Jenny” Lang Ping there again. Immediately after the Olympic victory, she said the following words: “We are a young team with a long way to go. Many teams are equal to our strength. We need to continue to work hard because there are a lot of things to do to improve.”

Olympic women’s volleyball champions:
1964: Japan
1968: Soviet Union
1972 Soviet Union
1976: Japan
1980: Soviet Union
1984: China
1988: Soviet Union
1992: Cuba
1996: Cuba
2000: Cuba
2004: China
2008: Brazil
2012: Brazil
2016: China

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