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Volleyball

Lang good as gold in China

August 23, 2008
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BEIJING - Lang Ping, the coach of the United States's women's volleyball team, tries to be a master of disguise in her home city.

She hides behind sunglasses or pulls on a floppy hat. With her team, she often exits arenas at the center of a huddle, sometimes escorted by bodyguards as people clamor to get a glimpse of her or touch the sleeve of her shirt.

A former Chinese national team volleyball star, she once wrapped all but her eyes with a scarf so she would not be recognized on a bike ride. As she pedaled down the streets of Beijing, Lang saw people point to her and cry out: "Lang Ping! Look everybody, that's Lang Ping under that scarf!"

"I can't go out at all or do anything in public because I'm mobbed by my fans," she said. "Once I bought something from a street vendor and everyone pointed to me: 'Look, Lang Ping eat that! Take photo of Lang Ping eating that!' Ugh, I say. Too much."

Today, the 47-year-old Lang - who goes by her chosen name of Jenny in the United States - will have no place to hide. The US team she coaches will take on Brazil for the gold medal. It will be the first appearance of the US women in an Olympic gold medal match since 1984. China will play Cuba for the bronze medal, an awkward ending to Olympic women's volleyball for some Chinese.

Since the Olympics began, Chinese newspaper editorials, stories, and blogs have discussed Lang's success. One newspaper story's headline read, "Let's Be Proud of Lang Ping," urging people not to consider her a traitor. Others said she had forsaken her homeland.

"She should not have turned her back on China to coach the opponents," said Yang Lijia, 47, a fan at the US-Cuba match Thursday. "I am proud that she is Chinese, but if she coached for China, we would be going for the gold medal. It's too bad about this."

Cui Dalin, the vice minister of the General Administration of Sport of China, said that the Chinese sports officials were honored that Lang was chosen to coach the Americans.

"We feel happy for her," Cui said in an interview this spring at the Chinese Olympic Committee's headquarters. "America's volleyball team will be the most popular team in Beijing because of Lang Ping."

Lang, who stands nearly 6 feet 2 inches and was nicknamed the Iron Hammer during her playing career because of her powerful spikes, insists she made the right move by taking the job in 2005. Because volleyball is not as popular in the United States as it is in China, she said, she could have a normal life as the US coach, living near the US Olympic Committee's training center in Colorado Springs.

"I will always be Chinese, even though I wear another country's colors," she said. "My fans love me, so I hope they understand that." (New York Times)

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