US beats China 3-2 in Olympic women's volleyball

Aug. 15, 2008, 1:14 p.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Jenny Lang Ping made the crowd in her hometown roar with a smile and a wave. Then she silenced them by coaching the U.S. women to victory over China.

As Chinese President Hu Jintao looked on, the U.S. volleyball team prevailed over the Chinese in five sets to earn a spot in the quarterfinals.

The match was one of the most anticipated of the Olympic volleyball competition because of U.S. coach Lang, a sports icon in China. She led the Chinese team to international prominence and a gold medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, and later coached the national team.

Once known as the "Iron Hammer" for her powerful spikes, Lang was met by thunderous applause when she was announced. She obliged the crowd with a wave.

Then she was all business in the 23-25, 25-22, 23-25, 25-20, 15-11 win.

"It doesn't matter if we play China, if we play Cuba, if we play Russia," she said. "Every match is the same. I try to be concentrated on the game, not the emotions."

Tayyiba Haneef-Park's spike put the United States up 18-14 in the first set, but the Chinese, who won the gold medal in Athens, whittled it away and took the set on Kun Feng's unreturnable spike.

The United States rallied from behind to take the second, sealed by Heather Bown's successful block, followed by her set-winning spike.

The Chinese built a sizable lead in the third, going up 21-14 after Xue Ming's block and Ma Yunwen's ace, but they nearly squandered it with mistakes. The United States figured out how to take advantage in the fourth, then rode the momentum to victory in the deciding set.

Lang told her team before the match: "Make sure every point is very, very important. Don't worry about the result."

The loss makes China's chances of making the quarterfinals less certain, and they must wait until their match Sunday to see if they advance. There are 12 women's teams competing in Beijing, divided into two pools. The top four teams in each pool that emerge from round-robin play move into the quarterfinals.

The lure of both the home team and one of China's biggest sports stars made Friday night's match one of the hottest tickets in town.

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.

She was hired in 2005 to coach the U.S. women's national team.

Her status was not a factor in the match, Chinese middle blocker Yanan Liu said.

"Lang Ping is the role model for every Chinese female volleyball player. However, we don't have special feeling when we play against the United States," she said. "She's now coaching the U.S. team and she has helped them improve and change their style. Still, we played without any special feelings."

Lang has been forced in Beijing to keep her team focused in the face of adversity.

Before their opening match, the team learned that Todd Bachman, the father of former volleyball Olympian Elisabeth "Wiz" Bachman McCutcheon, was fatally stabbed at a popular tourist site in Beijing. Bachman was with his wife, Barbara, and daughter at the 13th century Drum Tower when he was attacked. Barbara Bachman suffered serious wounds before 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.

Lindsey Berg, the U.S. captain, said the team was being driven by the tragedy.

"It's really emotional and we're all pushing hard for her, and pushing for the family," she said as tears welled up in her eyes.

In other games, Brazil, the top-ranked team in the world, defeated Kazakhstan 3-0 (25-13, 25-6, 27-25). The Brazilians are undefeated after four pool matches and are assured a spot in the quarterfinals.

Poland won its first match of pool play with a 3-0 victory over winless Venezuela (25-12, 25-12, 25-20), Russia defeated Algeria in three sets (25-11, 25-19, 25-10), Italy defeated Serbia 3-0 (25-23, 25-20, 25-19) and Cuba defeated Japan 3-0 (25-17, 25-22, 25-22).