China wins Olympic volleyball bronze medal

Aug. 23, 2008, 4:07 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) The Chinese women's volleyball team celebrated its Olympic bronze medal with players linking hands, walking to each corner of the court and waving thank-you to their fans.

Constant cheering from the home crowd Saturday spurred China to a 3-1 victory over Cuba, a three-time Olympic gold medalist.

"The whole team walked together side-by-side to win this game," captain Feng Kun said.

The United States was to meet Brazil in the gold-medal match Saturday night.

Although many of the Chinese players sobbed when they finally left the court after the 25-16, 21-25, 25-13, 25-20 victory, it was not because of disappointment for not defending their gold medal at the 2004 Athens Games, Feng said.

It was because the veterans were ending a journey that started well before Athens.

"I believe these eight years are the most glorious of my life," Feng said, sobbing again.

The Cubans dominated the sport in the 1990s, winning gold medals in 1992, 1996 and 2000. They won the bronze at the Athens Games.

But they were stunned in the Beijing semifinals by the United States in three sets, a match they expected to easily win.

"Maybe that influenced what happened today against China," Cuba coach Antonio Perdomo said.

Although China could not get past a fast Brazil team in the semifinals and on Saturday wasn't playing to defend its title, the team's fans never let up their cheers at Capital Indoor Stadium.

At the start, the Cubans looked as if they were headed to the same mistake-prone performance that cost them against the United States. China went up 19-13 in the first set on Yumilka Ruiz's missed spike before winning when Yanelis Santos faulted on a set.

But Cuba rebounded in the second set, going ahead 9-4 early on Rachel Sanchez's spike. China closed the gap and went up 16-15 on Feng's ace. Cuba didn't get rattled and won the set on Ruiz's spike.

China easily took the third, pulling ahead 17-8 on Zhao Ruirui's block and then winning it when Cuba's Zoila Barros served into the net.

China's momentum carried into the deciding set. Zhou Suhong's spike made it 11-6 before Cuba rallied to narrow it to 20-19, but China put the match away with Zhao's spike.

Wang Yimei had 20 points for China. Ruiz, playing in her third Olympics for Cuba, had 13 points.

Cuba, the only team in Beijing to use two setters, went undefeated in five preliminary pool matches and defeated Serbia in three sets before the loss to the U.S. women.

China went 3-2 in pool play, including losses to the United States and Cuba. The Chinese defeated Russia in the quarterfinals before their loss to Brazil.

China won the gold medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Games. There they were led by Lang Ping, known as the Iron Hammer for her powerful spikes. Lang is now the coach of the U.S. women's team.