Among the home crowd, women’s volleyball (女排）is one of the hottest tickets at these Olympics. With the exception of badminton and table tennis doubles, it is the only team sport where China has any history of Olympic success, winning gold in China’s first Olympics in 1984 and again at the most recent Summer Olympics in Athens.
It also boasts one of China’s most likable sports stars, the 1.97-meters tall Zhao Ruirui (赵蕊蕊). In addition to being a major presence at the net for China, baby-faced Zhao is fun to watch because she clearly thrives on competition and enjoys the game, which is not commonplace in a country where the state chooses which young athletes play which sports.
Coming off of gold in Athens, and returning top players like Zhao and Feng Kun (冯坤), expectations are high for Chinese women’s volleyball in Beijing. But there will be nothing easy about the team’s road to any medal, let alone gold.
The FIVB (Federation Internationale de Volleyball) World Grand Prix, which concluded in Yokohama, Japan, over the weekend, showed just how fierce competition is in this sport, with the top six teams all serious medal contenders. China finished in fifth place. Brazil won the tournament with a 5-0 record; Cuba took silver at 4-1; Italy won bronze with a record of 2-3. Also finishing ahead of China was the United States, led by China’s 1984 gold medalist Lang Ping (known in the United States as Jenny Lang Ping). The United States beat China in a five-setter in head-to-head competition (25-23, 25-19, 22-25, 21-25 and 17-15). China also lost to Italy, Cuba and Brazil. Its only win came over Japan.
The field for the 2008 Olympics is broken into six-team pools. China’s includes Italy, Japan and the United States. China’s round robin schedule is as follows:
August 10, 8:00 p.m. v. Bulgaria (Capital Indoor Stadium)
August 12, 8:00 p.m. v. Venezuela (Capital Indoor Stadium)
August 14, 8:00 p.m. v. Japan (Capital Indoor Stadium)
August 16, 10:00 a.m. v. USA (Beijing Institute of Technology)
August 18, 8:00 p.m. v. Italy (Capital Indoor Stadium)
The best of the above games will be the last three. China should definitely be among the top four teams from that pool, which will put them into an eight-team single-elimination playoff, with the losers of the two semifinal matches playing for bronze. Tournament play begins August 20 at Capital Indoor Stadium. The bronze and gold medal matches will be played August 24, also at Capital Indoor Stadium.
For more Chinese sports news, check out China Sports Today.