Fri, 30 Jul 2021

By sportswriters Wei Hua, Wang Jingyu and Lu Xingji

© Provided by Xinhua

Inviting foreign assistants, introducing the idea of a "big national team" to establish a talent pool to choose from, Lang quickly revived demoralized team to return to the elites of the volleyball world by winning two World Cup titles and one Olympic Champion. It is no exaggeration to say that the 60-year-old is the guarantee of China's performance.

If Lang is the soul of China off the pitch, then captain Zhu Ting is the pillar on it, whom the team is built around. The 26-year-old is an acquisition in Lang's stint, taking the baton that has been passed by the legendary to become a collector of trophies and a reaper of MVPs.

"The 6-foot-6 outside hitter is 26 years old, but she's already considered one of the greatest volleyball players of all time," commented Cable News Network.

Having spent three seasons with Turkish volleyball giant VakifBank Istanbul, Zhu has widened her horizons and gained more experience after Rio de Janeiro, the flag-bearer of China's delegation in the opening ceremony, will be under further "scrutiny" in Japan.

"Watching our national flag hoisted along with the national anthem is always my goal, and that of the Chinese women's volleyball team as well," Zhu expressed her ambitions ahead of the sporting extravaganza.

Ariake Arena, where the Olympic volleyball competition will be held, is not strange for China, as it has hosted test matches between China and Japan, while China also attended the Volleyball Nations League to warm up. Despite a lackluster start in VNL, China bounced back by registering seven consecutive victories to clinch a fifth-place finally.

China is indeed a strong contender for the top podium, but the defending champion has its own weak link that is the strength gap between the regulars and substitutes. Lang expects to have a game-changer if the starting line-up struggles or someone stands out when Zhu's spiking ability is blocked.

In Lang's opinion, the current situation is totally different from 2016, although several of her players has Olympic experience. Meanwhile, their opponents have progressed a lot in the past five years, China should start from scratch rather than playing with original rhythm.

"Brazil and USA are still at a high level, with Italy and Serbia in Europe progressing rapidly, as to the final rankings, it depends on the performance on the spot which will be the biggest challenge for us, maybe one key point will be the difference, " Lang told Xinhua in an exclusive interview.

According to the schedule, the final of women's volleyball will be held on the closing day, Chinese women's volleyball team is expected to put a fantastic end to the Chinese delegation, and a gold medal will be the best gift for Lang's possible last dance with her beloved team.

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