Chinese women resurgent

The Chinese head coach Chen Zhonghe (middle) is tossed in the air by the players after the team had finished No. 1. China took the gold, followed by Brazil and the U.S. -- Pic. AFP-The Chinese head coach Chen Zhonghe (middle) is tossed in the air by the players after the team had finished No. 1. China took the gold, followed by Brazil and the U.S. -- Pic. AFP

CHINA'S brilliant 11-0 track record in bagging the World Cup women's volleyball title in Osaka (Japan) in November, 2003, was a revelation.

CHINA'S brilliant 11-0 track record in bagging the World Cup women's volleyball title in Osaka (Japan) in November, 2003, was a revelation. It was undoubtedly China's finest hour and the Asian giant brought glory to the continent with this double crown, the team having won the World Grand Prix earlier, beating really powerful nations in the process.

In August this year, the `Red Titans' captured the GP honours in Italy, toppling the hot favourite, Russia. That was a big surprise even for the Asian nation as it was in the process of assembling a strong outfit. But this time China proved that its GP victory was no flash in the pan and brought back memories of its domination in the game in the early 80s when Long Ping led the nation to some incredible victories in World events. If Italy's World championship victory early this year was a big coup, China's resurgence after a long gap was even more stunning. Now, Russia, China, Brazil, Italy and Cuba are battling it out for the World honours. There wasn't such widespread competition in the 90s when Russia and Cuba were the archrivals, maintaining extraordinary teams. Cuba had a great run of success. When that team was dismantled after the last Olympics, Cuba's chances began to recede.

China was a late starter in women's volleyball. Japan had a head start in popularising that sport among its women and was a powerful outfit in the 70s itself. Then Korea followed suit. But China overtook them in the 80s completely, bringing in tall and more powerful spikers such as Long Ping. In fact, China was the only Asian nation to show the world at that time that it could bring down giants such as Russia and Cuba. The trio had some fascinating duels from 1980 to 1986, that is as long as Long Ping was the frontline attacker for China. After the towering woman's departure, China came down crashing and played second fiddle for a long time.

China's Liu Yanan spikes past the Japanese block of Megumi Kurihara (18) and Yoshie Takeshita in the final round-robin game. China beat Japan 25-18, 25-18, 25-13. — Pic. REUTERS.-

In its period of glory, China won the World championships twice (1982 and 1986), Los Angeles Olympics title (1984) and two World Cup honours in 1981 and 1985.

In the 90s, China was struggling to regain its glory, but could finish only runner-up to Cuba in the 1990 and 1998 World championships, in the 1991 World Cup and in the 1996 Olympics.

After 18 years China is back again as the No. 1 nation. During the Grand Prix, its young and talented players showed maturity. Led by skipper Feng Kun, Chen Jin and 6' 6" Zhao Ruirui, under the wings of coach Chen Zhonghe, the Asian squad fought its way to a brilliant title victory, sidelining all the frontliners. It was a long-drawn and tedious competition, stretching some three to four months with the teams moving from continent to continent to play in home and away matches. China overcame all these hurdles to take the GP title in style.

The award winners (from left): China's Zhao Ruirui — Top Spiker, China's Feng Kun — Top Setter, Japan's Yoshie Takeshita — Most Valuable Player, Poland's Malgorzata Glinka — Top Scorer, Brazil's Arlene Xavier — Best Libero and Brazil's Valeska Menezes — Top Blocker. — Pic. AP-

What were the reasons for China's phenomenal success in these competitions? Mainly two. China has found an excellent setter in Feng, who was declared the Best Setter in the Cup competition. Then Zhao, who received the Best Spiker award with a total of 119 points out of 194 shots. These two lifted China's game to a higher plane. Coach Zhonghe said after the Cup triumph, "We had really good results in this tournament and I think my players showed their best possible ability." China's surge in the competition had the others gasping for breath. But Brazil came close to putting China on the mat. However, China rose to the occasion and handed Brazil its only defeat in the championship. It was a close race for Italy and the United States for the No. 3 spot. When Italy lost its first set to Brazil it went out of contention and the US team qualified for the Athens Olympics along with China and Brazil. It was a creditable show by the US, which began rather badly, losing a five-setter to Poland. Thereafter, it always rose to the occasion.

In a crucial match, the US pulverised Cuba 3-0 with a classic display of never-say-die volleyball. It outmuscled and outhit the Cubans. America's ace hitter Prikeba Phipps said, "We were very disappointed after we were defeated by the Brazilian team, but our head coach believed in us and we have recovered our confidence."

The Brazilians danced in delight after their overwhelming win against the USA and their coach Jose Guimaraes was ecstatic and said, "I am very pleased to have a ticket to Athens. Our dream came true and my duty is accompolished. Today the Brazilian team played very well and consistently. The whole team got together and we performed well in serve-reception so that we could attack with variety."

Among the qualifiers, Turkey, an emerging power, thrashed Korea 3-0 and the Asian team slipped badly to the ninth spot with eight losses. Egypt could not register a single victory. Argentina finished behind the Dominican Republic.