US beats China 3-2 in women's volleyball

Aug. 15, 2008, 12:09 p.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) The United States, playing under former Chinese player Jenny Lang Ping, defeated China 3-2 in women's volleyball Friday night as the Chinese president looked on.

The 23-25, 25-22, 23-25, 25-20, 15-11 victory moved the United States to 3-2 in preliminary pool play, assuring the team a spot in the quarterfinals. China fell to 2-2.

The match was one of the most anticipated of the 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 at Beijing's Capital Indoor Stadium. Lang obliged the crowd with a smile and a wave.

Then the Chinese fans, including Chinese President Hu Jintao, turned their support to their team.

Tayyiba Haneef Park's spike put the United States up 18-14 in the first set, but the Chinese whittled it away and took the first 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, with set point coming on a Chinese error, then rode their momentum to victory in the deciding set.

The loss makes China's chances of making the quarterfinals less certain.

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.

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 as head coach of the U.S. women's national team.

Lang has worked to keep the team focused in the face of tragedy.

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 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.