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“Iron Hammer” takes heart from encouraging new start

 
Lausanne, Switzerland, October 22, 2014 – It had been 16 years since China last stepped foot on the podium at the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship, but their success at Italy 2014 earlier this month offers much encouragement for coach and volleyball legend Jenny Lang Ping and the young stars now under her guidance.

Although they missed out to the United States in the final – a team Jenny had coached to the silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games – coming away with second place has been deemed a great success for a side who recorded their worst ever result in the tournament when they finished 10th four years ago. This fact is not lost on the 53-year-old.

“The World Championship is the first ‘Big Three’ tournament in the new Olympic circle and the silver medal was a very good encouragement to our young team,” said Jenny, who took the helm early last year. “The result was a bit surprising to us. We have fought very hard to make the final and get the silver medal. Generally speaking, we have played over the bar at this tournament. We have seen our improvement, our potential and the things we need to work on from the games we played in Italy.

“After the semifinals, we found that we had a chance to go for the gold medal. Maybe we were the underdogs in the final, but for sure we had a chance. Why we didn’t get it? It’s just because we were not good enough. We need to work on.”

Disappointment aside, the Chinese women have now reached the final of the World Championship an incredible five times with only Russia and Italy ahead of them on nine and six appearances respectively. The current world No.3 landed the title in 1982, 1986 and finished runners-up in 1990, 1998 and 2014 and it is a testament to Jenny’s talents as both a player and a coach that she was with the team on every occasion.

“You reporters are better at calculating than me, I didn’t even notice,” Jenny revealed. “Time flies! I have taken part in so many World Championships, more than Olympic Games and World Cups.”

As a player the former ace spiker was nicknamed “Iron Hammer” when leading the Chinese team to consecutive titles at the 1982 World Championship, 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games and 1981 and 1985 World Cups as a player. She became coach after retiring and led the Chinese women to win silvers at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and 1998 World Championship and bronze at the 1995 World Cup in her first spell as national team coach which sadly came to an end in early 1999 due to health problems. 

However she was parachuted back in after the Asian powerhouse’s lackluster performance at the London 2012 Olympic Games where they finished fifth. And Jenny admits that she already has one eye on the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in two years’ time.

“Every team is thinking about the Rio Games,” she revealed. “From this World Championship, it’s easy to find that the competition among women’s volleyball teams has become closer than ever. All the teams have brought their best players to Italy and displayed how well they could play. I think those teams who improve faster in the next two years will have a good chance in Rio. For us, if we don’t work harder, we will be surpassed.”

China’s improvement over the last few seasons – which include a silver at the 2013 World Grand Prix and gold at the 2014 Asian Cup – has not gone unnoticed by Jenny’s peers either. Chinese Volleyball Association vice president Pan Zhichen was one of many people who convinced Jenny to return to the national team after 14 years and he has praised her influence so far.

“Jenny has played the most important role in the coaching team,” he said. “She is a world class coach and has been doing a great job.” 

Pan was especially impressed by the young players including teenager stars Zhu Ting and Yuan Xinyue. The 19-year-old Zhu was included in the World Championship Dream Team as outside spiker and Yuan was also one of the stars of the tournament as she made her debut as middle blocker.

“The young players have improved very quickly under Jenny’s guidance and I think they will help bring a brighter future to our team.”

The impressive performance of the Chinese team at the World Championship also helped remove the pressure Jenny faced after the team’s disappointing fourth place finish at the Asian Championship last autumn and she is now determined to stick to her way of coaching, adding youth and continuing to develop the side into world beaters.

“I will continue to recruit young talented players and give them opportunities to play for the national team,” she asserted. “Our second string players have done a good job at the Asian Games, winning the silver also. Quite a few players from that team have participated in our training camp early this year. The more players we can use, the better our future will be.”

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