Photo taken on May 17, 2013 shows Lang Ping, the new head coach of the Chinese women’s
volleyball team, training the players before the match against Porto Rico at the 2013 China
International Women’s Volleyball Tournament held in Ningbo, east China’s Zhejiang Province.
Photo by Xu Yu
Jenny Lang Ping
leads China to surprising resurgence
By Wang Jingyu
About one year ago, coach and volleyball legend Jenny Lang Ping and her Chinese national women’s volleyball team were struggling to recover from their disappointing fourth finish at the Asian Championships. At the same time this year, they can look back upon the wonderful moments they had at the World Championships with joy and smiles.
It had been 16 years since China last stepped foot on the podium at the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship, but their success at Italy 2014 offers much encouragement for Jenny and the young stars under her guidance.
Although they lost to the United States in the final – a team Jenny had coached to the silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games – coming away with second place has been deemed a great success for a side who recorded their worst ever result in the tournament when they finished 10th four years ago. This fact is not lost on the 53-year-old.
“The World Championship is the first ‘Big Three’ tournament in the new Olympic circle and the silver medal was a very good encouragement to our young team,” said Jenny, who took the helm early last year.
“The result was a bit surprising to us. We have fought very hard to make the final and get the silver medal. Generally speaking, we have played over the bar at this tournament. We have seen our improvement, our potential and the things we need to work on from the games we played in Italy.
“After the semifinals, we found that we had a chance to go for the gold medal. Maybe we were the underdogs in the final, but for sure we had a chance. Why didn’t we get it? It’s just because we were not good enough. We need to work harder.”
The Chinese women have now reached the final of the World Championship five times with only Russia and Italy ahead of them on nine and six appearances respectively. The current world No. 3 landed the title in 1982, 1986 and finished runners-up in 1990, 1998 and 2014 and it is a testament to Jenny’s talents as both a player and a coach that she was with the team on every occasion.
“Time flies! I have taken part in so many World Championships, more than Olympic Games and World Cups,” said Jenny.
The former ace spiker was nicknamed “Iron Hammer” when leading the Chinese team to consecutive titles at the 1982 World Championship, 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games and 1981 and 1985 World Cups. She became coach after retiring and led the Chinese women to win silvers at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and 1998 World Championship and bronze at the 1995 World Cup in her first spell as national team coach which sadly came to an end in early 1999 due to health problems.
However, she was parachuted back in after the Asian powerhouse’s lackluster performance at the London 2012 Olympic Games where they finished fifth. And Jenny admits that she already has one eye on the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in two years’ time.
“Every team is thinking about the Rio Games,” she revealed. “From this World Championship, it’s easy to find that the competition among women’s volleyball teams has become closer than ever. All the teams have brought their best players to Italy and displayed how well they could play. I think those teams who improve faster in the next two years will have a good chance in Rio. For us, if we don’t work harder, we will be surpassed.”
China’s improvement over the last few seasons – which include a silver at the 2013 World Grand Prix and gold at the 2014 Asian Cup – has not gone unnoticed by Jenny’s peers either. Chinese Volleyball Association vice president Pan Zhichen was one of many people who convinced Jenny to return to the national team after 14 years and he has praised her influence so far.
“Jenny has played the most important role in the coaching team,” he said. “She is a world class coach and has been doing a great job.”
Pan was especially impressed by the young players including teenager stars Zhu Ting and Yuan Xinyue. The 19-year-old Zhu was included in the World Championship Dream Team as outside spiker and Yuan was also one of the stars of the tournament as she made her debut as middle blocker.
“The young players have improved very quickly under Jenny’s guidance and I think they will help bring a brighter future to our team.”
The impressive performance of the Chinese team at the World Championship also helped remove the pressure Jenny faced after the team’s disappointing fourth place finish at the Asian Championship last autumn and she is now determined to stick to her way of coaching, adding youth and continuing to develop the side into world beaters.
“I will continue to recruit young talented players and give them opportunities to play for the national team,” she asserted. “Our second string players have done a good job at the Asian Games, winning the silver also. Quite a few players from that team have participated in our training camp early this year. The more players we can use, the better our future will be.”
The 2014 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship have also witnessed many teams record their best ever performance.
USA, who were crowned the new world champions in Italy, had never won gold before in the tournament. Their amazing first place improved on their previous best of second – which the Americans had achieved twice, in 1967 and 2002. USA have now become one of only six countries to have claimed FIVB trophies with the others being Russia (including the Soviet Union), Japan, Cuba, China and Italy.
“We came here to make history and we made it,” said USA coach Karch Kiraly.
“It feels really good, it’s awesome. I am so proud of these people I work with in this program every day. The 50 athletes who wore a USA uniform this year at some point and all the contributions they made and make on a daily basis.”
The Dominican Republic have truly shattered all their historical records, rising high above any expectations and astonishing even their most optimistic of fans.
The “Queens of the Caribbean” came within one set of a semifinal berth when they led China 2-0 (and just needed to win by any score) in their last match of Round 3. They finished fifth, a huge leap from their previous best of 11th in 1998. They were 17th in the last two editions.
Third place for Brazil, though, was a disappointment for the Olympic champions. The South Americans were chasing the only major title that still eludes them. They lost to Russia twice in tie-breaks in their previous two attempts in 2006 and 2010 and riding on the momentum of their 2012 Olympic gold, they were tipped as favorites to win the World Championships this time around. The bronze medal they ended up with doesn’t improve on their previous bests.
The success of the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship 2014 is proof that the sport is heading in the right direction according to President Dr. Ary S. Graca.
“The global spread of volleyball has been made evident by the Championships this year – which have been the most successful in FIVB history,” he said.
“The fact that world No. 10 the Dominican Republic got so far through the competition demonstrates how the sport is developing beyond the usual stars in Russia and Brazil. We are seeing new stars emerging all the time from every corner of the world and this assures me that we are heading in the right direction as a federation.”
He also said that volleyball is in fine health as the sport begins to turn its attention to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
“After over 50 years, volleyball will be coming home to Rio in 2016, where fans will see the sport’s most spectacular show yet – both in our fully-packed stadiums and on Rio’s iconic Copacabana beach.”
A visitor poses for photos with a wax figure of volleyball legend Lang Ping at the Madame
Tussauds Wax Museum in Beijing on May 31, 2014. Photo – Xinhua