Volleyball gold clouded by poor haul

China's gold-winning volleyballers celebrating their triumph with coach Lang Ping and her assistant Lai Yawen (right). The volleyball players were one of a few bright spots of a Chinese Olympic contingent that won their fewest gold medals since the A
China's gold-winning volleyballers celebrating their triumph with coach Lang Ping and her assistant Lai Yawen (right). The volleyball players were one of a few bright spots of a Chinese Olympic contingent that won their fewest gold medals since the Atlanta Games in 1996.PHOTO: REUTERS

RIO DE JANEIRO • China's young women's volleyball team overcame a surging Serbia in four sets to take their country's third Olympic gold medal in the sport.

But Saturday's win brought little joy to their countrymen, with China as a whole slumping to their worst Games haul in 20 years.

China sent 410 athletes to Rio, their most at a foreign Games. But by the penultimate day of competition, they had won just 26 gold medals, their fewest since Atlanta 1996.

Worse still, they trailed not only the United States but also Britain in the medals table, a fact that has prompted splutterings of indignation in the Chinese media.

China topped the table in 2008, when they hosted the Games in Beijing, and were second in Athens 2004 and London 2012.

Liu Peng, the Chinese Olympic committee chief, said rising standards had taken them by surprise.

"There are a few problems we cannot overlook. We didn't win so many medals... we didn't assess objectively the challenges we might face," he said.

"In recent years, more countries have attached importance to the Olympics, so the level internationally has gone up and the competition has become fierce. We need to employ a new mentality and understanding on how to improve our performances and ability."

Liu said inexperience cost China, with three-quarters of the team competing at their first Olympics.

"We have trained these athletes but the training isn't enough," he said. "Because when these athletes face fierce competition and challenges, they have too much to think about and they didn't perform at their highest level."

China's women volleyballers, though, were outstanding in the final, beating Serbia, who were competing for the first time for an Olympic medal and had beaten China in the preliminary round.

Coached by former top player Lang Ping, China last won the gold in 2004. They won their first gold in Los Angeles in 1984 when Lang was on the team.

"Before the tournament, we never thought we could win the gold," said Lang, who also coached the United States to a silver medal in 2008. "I think we were lucky.

"Our young players did not play well at the beginning, but they did at the important moment."

The United States won bronze after beating the Netherlands.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESS, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2016, with the headline 'Volleyball gold clouded by poor haul'. Print Edition | Subscribe