Full disclosure: CST editor Maggie Rauch was hired to handle public relations for the Evergrande-USA Volleyball Challenge.
On February 2, the U.S. women's volleyball national training team lost to the Evergrande volleyball club, 3-0, in a match at Guangzhou Gymnasium. The team, coached by Hugh McCutcheon, who won gold with the US men's team in 2008, faced "Jenny" Lang Ping, the 1984 gold medalist for China who led the US women's team to a silver in Beijing.
It was a tough loss for the U.S. team, which dropped the middle set 25-12, but it was mostly made up of new players, and winning a volleyball match was not the trip's only purpose.
Before the game, the US team spent five days training and facing intense media interest in a country that fell in love with volleyball after its women's team won Olympic gold in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. A dinner at the US consul general's private residence and a big Chinese banquet with top volleyball officials were also on the team's itinerary.
Guangzhou's U.S. Consul General, Brian Goldbeck, praised the event for promoting friendly ties. With relations between the United States and China strained of late (need I mention the Internet censorship debate, furor over arms sales to Taiwan, President Obama's plans to meet with the Dalai Lama, and the dispute over the RMB's valuation?) this past week was a good time for a little sports diplomacy. And volleyball is a fitting sport to serve this purpose, as the US and China women's teams have a healthy rivalry that's about 30 years old, the same age as diplomatic ties between the two nations.
The match followed a successful 12-0 season for the Evergrande team, which moves from Division B to Division A of the Anta China Women's Volleyball League. Evergrande Real Estate Group founded the team in the fall of 2009, investing 20 million yuan (about $3 million). It managed to lure one of China's most recognized sports figures, Lang Ping, over from her home in Southern California to coach the team.
The presence of Lang and the financial backing of Evergrande allowed the team to bring on a trio of national team players from China's 2008 Olympic bronze medal-winning team—Feng Kun, Zhou Suhong and Yang Hao. Two of America's best—Nicole Davis and Christa Harmotto—rounded out a squad that dominated the league.
The Evergrande team is the first of its kind in China, as the others are all controlled by state sports administrations. Its games aired on prime time national television, significantly raising the profile of volleyball, already a popular sport in China. The buzz around Lang (nicknamed the "Iron Hammer" during her playing days) revealed big hopes for the growth of the league and development of the sport in China. At press conferences for the event, she frequently deflected questions about herself as a "savior" of the sport in China.
Lang said that for the level of play to improve and energy around the league to grow, more international players would be needed. "When Nicole and Christa get on the court, the whole team atmosphere changes," she said of her two American players. "There is more passion. Chinese volleyball needs more international players. The different styles of play would invigorate the game here." She referenced the international nature of the world's top league in Italy, where she won a championship with only one Italian player on her team.
With the state sports administrations so heavily involved in the league, it's unlikely that Lang's vision of a truly international Chinese league will be realized soon. But she pointed out that in the Chinese Basketball Association, the presence of just two foreign players on each team has helped generate interest.
SCMP: Foreign players the answer if China wants best league (subscription required—free trial)
China Daily: Guangdong side urged to build up reserves
Tags: Christa Harmotto, Evergrande volleyball, Feng Kun, Hengda volleyball, Hugh McCutcheon, Nicole Davis, volleyball, Yang Hao, Zhou Suhong
Yao Ming (姚明), athletics' Liu Xiang (刘翔) and the Chinese diving team. But did you know that China has a gold medal contender in light flyweight boxer Zou Shiming (邹市明)? And have you met Feng Kun (冯坤) and Zhao Ruirui's (赵蕊蕊) supporting cast on the Chinese women's volleyball team?
To help you get to know Team China, China Sports Today has just added a database of Olympians and other top athletes from the Middle Kingdom. From golf to table tennis (ping pong) to gymnastics, you'll find basic information on key competitors, along with video when possible. To get started, follow this link or click on "Sports" on the bar above. For some sports, the list of athletes comes at the bottom of the sport's page, following some background information about China's history in that sport.
If you don't see who you're looking for, go to our Contact Us page and we'll do our best to add your athlete ASAP.
Tags: athletes, boxing, diving, Feng Kun, Liu Xiang, Olympics, volleyball, Yao Ming, Zhao Ruirui, Zou Shiming
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). In head-to-head competition, the United States beat China in a five-setter (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.
Tags: Feng Kun, Olympics, volleyball, Zhao Ruirui
The 6'5" (1.97-meter) Zhao, the team's linchpin, has not seen much action since leading the team to a gold medal at the Athens Games in 2004. Feng has been out for about a year following knee surgery. The pair returned for a friendly series against Cuba, which includes matches in Fuzhou, Jinjiang and Xiamen.
Zhao looked healthy and very happy to be playing in the first four matches of the series. She is averaging 10.7 points per game, according to this report from China Daily.
Tags: Feng Kun, volleyball, women, Zhao Ruirui