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At Rio Games, China's new generation values charisma, fun as well as victory

By Yang Sheng (Global Times)    09:25, August 22, 2016

New generation values charisma, fun as well as victory

Gold medalist Zhang Changning poses for a selfie with fans after the women's volleyball match at Maracanazinho Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday at the 2016 Olympic Games. Photo: VCG

The Chinese public is beaming with pride and joy after the country's women's volleyball team won the gold medal at the Rio Olympic Games, a victory reminiscent of the country's past when national pride was closely linked to achievements in international sports.

As the Rio Olympics ends on Sunday evening local time, China has collected 26 gold medals as of press time, a lackluster performance compared to the Beijing and London Games. Still, the public has generally been unfazed since observers say the country, already the second largest economy in the world, no longer needs Olympic medals to boost morale.

The team's hard-won championship, however, triggered a surge in national pride. China had been defeated by the US in the group stage and was not a pre-tournament title favorite. However, China beat Brazil 3-2, an opponent which has defeated China in the past two Games, and Netherlands at 3-1, which beat China in the group stage last week.

Beating Serbia in Saturday's final gave the Chinese reason to cheer, especially after the UK overtook China as second in the medal standings.

Before the victory, the public was focused on the fitness of swimmer Ning Zetao, the marriage proposal by diver Qin Kai, and the animated post-race interview of swimmer Fu Yuanhui. None of these athletes won gold, but they are adored by millions of young people who place fun and individuality before national pride.

Rekindled patriotism

Yet patriotism and the desire to win rekindled by the volleyball team's victory created extraordinary numbers. According to a China Business News' report, TV ratings of the women's volleyball final in China reached a staggering 56.78 percent share, and the advertising rate during commercial breaks reached 2.11 million yuan ($301,000) for a 5-second commercial.

Beijing Sport University Olympic studies expert Ren Hai told the Global Times that China's women's volleyball team has had a unique influence on China, and the victory reminded him of the "Women's Volleyball Spirit."

The term was coined in the 1980s, when Lang Ping, the team's current coach, was the ace attacker. That legendary team brought China five consecutive championships in the 1980s.

"They became the country's heroines which inspired a whole generation, won great confidence for the country in the early stages of the opening-up and reform," Ren said.

Wang Dazhao, a Beijing-based sport commentator, said this spirit means "never give up," "unity" and "show no fear to the powerful."

"This is more powerful and heart-pounding compared to the idea of 'happy sport,' and this spirit can never die," Wang said.

Coach's edge

Ren said that in the 1980s a win was always linked to national pride, but these days charisma and individual performance are likewise valued, such as Lang Ping's leadership and personal story.

Lang grew up in the Chinese state-run sports system and became a successful player. She started coaching the US team in 2005 and helped the US beat China in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and won a silver medal. In 2009, Lang returned to China to coach the Guangdong Evergrande Women's Volleyball Club in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, and in 2013 she started coaching the national team.

Lang is uniquely positioned because she succeeded in China, understands the Chinese system and enjoyed a successful overseas experience, Ren said.

"Her story shows that the state, the market and society are three important factors in the development of sports."

Although China's performance at the Rio Olympics fell short of expectations, Wang stressed the medal tally only reflects China's performance in one Olympics but not the country's sports development.

"Compared to the Beijing Olympics, when China topped the medal standings, this year's performance was not as encouraging," Wang said, adding that China's sports program has remarkably developed in the past eight years.

Ren said "the gold medal won by the women's volleyball team should not be overstated," since China faced strong opposing teams. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor: Yuan Can,Bianji)

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