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UPDATED: 09:02, August 29, 2004
China wins first women's volleyball Olympic gold in 20 years
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China embraced its first volleyball Olympic title in 20 years, beating Russia 3-2 in the women's final in Athens on Saturday.

After trailing two sets down, China came from behind to trounce Russia 28-30, 25-27, 25-20, 25-23 and 15-12 to claim the title.

The Chinese players dived to the floor to celebrate the well- deserved victory after Zhang Yuehong smashed home the match winner.

"This is an extreme happy day for us," said Feng Kun, captain of the Chinese team, "We have strove for this for four years and unlike other teams, we had a perfect memory during the Athens Olympic Games."

The last time the Chinese women won an Olympic title was 20 years ago at the 1984 Los Angles Olympics.

The championship match was set to be a fantastic showdown between the two teams as both displayed their terrific forms en route to the final.

Russia, a power house in the sport, turned the table in its semi-final against Brazil when it rallied from two sets down to snatch the final spot at 3-2.

But on Saturday night, it was China that played the same role.

"Our players played a great game today," said Chinese head coach Chen Zhonghe, "They played like a team and never gave up even under the most difficult situation. I should mention Zhang Ping especially, who has played as a starter for less than one year, but had a great game tonight."

Zhang Ping led the Chinese team with 25 points, while Yang Hao added 21. Zhou Suhong and Zhang Yuehong had 15 apiece.

China got off to the better start, opening an 8-5 lead with Zhang Ping particularly effective on attack. Setter Feng Kun and Liu Yanan also combined superbly with two successful blocks.

But Ekaterina Gamova's three consecutive points helped Russia catch up to 18-18. After the 24-24 tie, both teams beat off four set-points and it was Gamova again who spiked home her ninth and the final point of the set for Russia.

Gamova scored a total of 33 points during the two hours and seven minutes match.

The fans were treated to a frenetic pace in the second set with beautiful blocking from Feng Kun and powerful attacking from backcourt of Zhang Ping, giving China a slight advantage 10-8.

The Russians replayed the scenario again at 15-17 as they made a 6-2 run, and Gamova scored three points in a row to make it 22- 20.

Chinese head coach Chen then made an inspiring substitution, introducing wing-striker Zhang Yuehong into the court, but only saw Russia charge home to claim the set

Two blocks from Irina Tebenikhina and Lioubov Shashkova led Russia to a 26-25 advantage and an attack error from China gave Russia the second set at 27-25.

Shashkova contributed 23 points while Tebenikhina had 14.

The Chinese women, who were cornered into a do-or-die situation, came out in the third set with a quick 8-5 lead.

Coach Chen was a lot more animated during his team talks, which had an immediate effect as his attackers started to find their rhythms regularly, particularly Zhang Yuehong, who scored three points in a row to maintain the slight lead 17-14 for China. And China's defense was also improved with Zhang Ping's blocks and libero Zhang Na who made impressive diving saves.

"Zhang is a new face for the Russians. I thought she will make some impacts on the Russian defense," said Chen, "But I didn't know she would be a key player during the whole match."

With Zhang Ping's ace, China finally clawed one set back with 25-20.

"The third set was the turning point of the game," said Chen, " Our players restored their confidences and I found the Russians began to be fussy."

China started the fourth set trying to gain an edge but Russia wouldn't surrender. China soon held the lead 10-6 but Russia quickly answered back with a 5-1 run.

After tied at 20-20, both teams played more evenly, as Russia led at 23-21 before China, to the surprise of all, managed a 4-0 run. Russia's Gamova was still impressive in attack but this wasn 't enough to stop China from running out comfortable set winners to tie up the match with 25-23.

In the tie break and still neither team would budge, until Feng Kun scored with a spike to help China lead 5-3.

Russia made its last try at 11-12, but China started to gain the ascendancy with consecutive points from Yang Hao and sealed the match with an excellent spike from Zhang Yuehong to the fantastic scenes of jubilation.

"We do know whether or not we lacked something in the Russian team," said Gamova after the match, "But we have to discuss and have a thorough analysis after the match."

Gamova explained that the clash against Brazil in the semi- final has no effects upon the Russian players.

"I didn't feel tired tonight," said Gamova, "The whole team was not tired at all. The clash (against Brazil) didn't influence the result today. As I said before, we are going to analyze the game to find out the reasons behind our loss."

Russian head coach Nikolay Karpol also made the echo, saying " we are going to discuss it and will answer the question publicly in a week."

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