US volleyball coach Ping to face former team

Aug. 14, 2008, 5:25 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Coach Jenny Lang Ping momentarily dropped the all-business demeanor she has had in Beijing when she considered whether her experience on the Chinese team would be an advantage for the United States when the two meet.

"If you cannot stop them, it doesn't matter if I know so much," she said, adding with a laugh: "The thing is that I don't play."

The U.S. women under Lang play China Friday night in one of the most anticipated early matches of the Olympic volleyball competition.

Lang is a huge celebrity in China, having led the Chinese team to international prominence and a gold medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. She later coached the national team.

Known as the "Iron Hammer" for her powerful spikes, Lang has appeared on her own postage stamp. When she was married, it was on television.

In Beijing, Lang has attracted scores of Chinese fans to the U.S. team's matches. She is always met with thunderous applause when she is announced. Crowds stay late just to see her leave the court, some snapping pictures and other pointing her out to their children.

The atmosphere Friday night at Capital Indoor Stadium figures to be electric. The U.S. women also have a large contingent of flag-waving American fans cheering them on Beijing.

Her joke about not playing in the match drew laughs. But as for her experience giving the United States any advantage, or even any insight into strategy, Lang got back to business.

"It's going to be a very, very tough game. China is the host and they play very well," she said. "You have to go play and play well, even if you know how they play."

The United States was 2-1 in pool play, as was China. There are 12 women's teams competing in Beijing, divided into two pools. The top four teams will emerge from round-robin play into the quarterfinals - placing even more significance on Friday's match.

The Chinese women, who won the gold medal in Athens and are considered one of the top teams in the Olympics, are coached by Zhonghe Chen, one of Lang's former assistants.

The hosts, however, were coming off a draining loss to rival Cuba.

"The next match against the United States is very important for us," Chen said. "Our major task now is to calm down and focus on it."

The U.S. team also lost earlier in preliminary play to undefeated Cuba. Their trip to the Olympics has thus far been marked by tragedy.

Before their opening match the team learned that an American fatally stabbed at a popular tourist spot in Beijing was Todd Bachman, the father of former Olympian Elisabeth "Wiz" Bachman McCutcheon.

Bachman was with his wife, Barbara, and his daughter at the 13th-century Drum Tower when he was attacked. Barbara Bachman suffered serious wounds and the assailant jumped from the tower to his death.

Bachman McCutcheon is the wife of U.S. men's coach Hugh McCutcheon and is close to many on the women's team.

The United States appeared to refocus after its last match, a victory over Venezuela. But in China the team faces a greater challenge.

"I think we are very much under pressure for this game. We need to focus on ourselves," Lang said. "China plays fast, they play a lot of combinations. How much we can play under the pressure, and play well, that's more important."

Lang was an outside hitter for the Chinese national team from 1978-85 and then again in 1990. Credited with the ascent of the Chinese women's program, she helped the team to its first title in 1981 at the World Cup.

In 1995 she became the first woman to coach a Chinese national team. She led the women to a silver medal in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and the 1998 World Championship. After leaving the team in 1999, Lang served as head coach for a number of championship teams in the Italian League.

In 2005, she was hired as head coach of the U.S. women's national team.