China’s young women’s volleyball team ended 12 years of national pain by beating Serbia for the gold medal at the Rio Olympics on Saturday.
Coached by former Olympic champion Lang Ping, the team rediscovered their mojo at the right moment to win 19-25, 25-17, 25-22, 25-23.
It was China’s third Olympic gold medal in the sport, the first coming in Los Angeles in 1984, when Lang was a player, and then again at Athens in 2004.
Lang, 55, also became the first person to win volleyball gold as a coach and player, but she deflected the praise to her players.
“In the past four years, we have been designing and executing our training every single day,” she said.
“We took one step at a time and we finally got here today. The gold medals are the result of all the players’ contribution and I thank them for that.
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“Before the tournament I never thought that we could win the gold. I was thinking, ‘if we we’re lucky we could win a medal’.
“With a young team, you never know. One day is great, the next is not,” said Lang, stressing she was not out to make history.
“It’s not important to me to make history. I’m so happy for the young girls.”
Luck also played a part as China lost three of their pool games and just squeezed into the quarter-finals, where they shocked Brazil.
Serbia had also beaten China in the preliminary round and started the gold-medal match where they had left off, winning the first set 25-19.
But China quickly turned their frustration into motivation in the second set, taking it 25-17 and then grabbed the advantage by edging a close third set 25-22.
With the noise level turned up in a packed Maracanazinho stadium, China defended well and then overpowered the Serbians with powerful spikes, winning the fourth 25-23.
The magnificent Zhu Ting, a towering 1.95 metres tall, led the way with 25 points, while captain Hui Ruoqi scored 13 points.
The Chinese players said they were inspired by the fan support in the stadium, making them feel as if they had home advantage.
Lang said she would wait for the dust to settle before deciding whether to carry on to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“I have spent very little time with my parents. That’s my regret. I thank them for their support. Now I just want to go home and be with them,” she said.
Hui said her team showed great resilience to bounce back after losing the first set to the Serbians, who were competing for the first time for an Olympic medal.
“We were determined and believed in each other and slowly caught up,” she said. “My dreams have now come true.”
Serbia’s Brankica Mihajlovic, who was instrumental in their victory over No 1-ranked USA in the semi-finals, said she was proud of how far the team had come.
“It was a tough final. We lost but we shouldn’t be too sad. They were better than us. Congratulations to them, they were very good,” she said.