Monday, July 2, 2001
A pioneerIn a country of a billion people, Lang Ping has always been one of a kind.
The volleyball legend still
contributes to the sport
By Cindy Luis
The 38-year-old is still considered the greatest player in China's volleyball history -- male or female. She is still the only woman to have coached an Olympic volleyball team for China.
As a player, Ping led her country over the U.S. in the gold-medal match of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. It was a day that China stood still, as factories and businesses shut down so workers could watch the match live. A national holiday was declared after the historic victory.
The legend continued to grow, as did Ping's resume: four times voted the best player in the world, five times in Asia, two World Cup titles, two Italian League titles, one World Championship.
The ultimate honor -- and challenge -- was twice being named head coach of the Chinese women's national volleyball team. Her second coaching stint resulted in a silver medal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
Her popularity and notoriety has not waned in the past 17 years. How else would one explain the ease of filling more than 100 seats on a week's notice for a Sunday lunch?
Such was the case yesterday when Ping slipped into Honolulu for a meal as the honored guest of the United Chinese Society. She had spent the past week on Kauai with her 9-year-old daughter Bai Lang "Lydia" Ping before heading back to Beijing.
"I'm here for vacation," said Ping, who is taking a break from her coaching duties in the Italian pro league. "During the season, the traveling is very intense and there is little down time."
That has been her life's story since being named to China's national team as a 15-year-old. Between 1978 and 1985, Ping competed in 215 international matches.
"Retirement" is not in her vocabulary. After leaving the national team, she earned a graduate degree at the University of New Mexico, where she was an assistant coach for the Lobos in 1987, and again from 1991 to '95.
Hawaii volleyball fans had a chance to see Ping in action on numerous occasions, either coaching against the University of Hawaii Wahine or in the 1995 Grand Prix event that featured China, Japan and the U.S.
"We loved to play here," said Ping. "There are not many places in the United States where volleyball is that popular, not like it is in China and Europe.
"I enjoyed my time at New Mexico. It helped me with my English. And it was a great experience to coach a university team."
Ping has always been known as a great motivator, whether it was on the court as her team's captain or on the sidelines as a coach. Her physical ability always spoke for itself -- the 6-foot-1 Ping had a vertical jump of 10 feet, 6 inches.
"She's just a very impressive person," said UH volleyball assistant Kari Anderson, who attended yesterday's lunch. "You can only imagine the hours that she has put into the sport. And she's so humble.
"I have memories of her from when I was very young. I think I was 11 when the 1984 Olympics were going on. Watching her play ... she was awe-inspiring."
Manny Menendez, who organized the lunch yesterday at the China House that featured Ping, has known her for more than 15 years.
"She comes through Hawaii every year, and this time we asked if she wouldn't come out of being incognito because the Chinese community is so proud of her," said Menendez, the executive director for the city's office of economic development.
"I've been with her in China, going out to dinner, and within 10 minutes, there will be thousands of people around her. There's a lot of great athletes in China, but she's a national hero. What is special about her is she has the ability to show her players how to do things because she's done those things."
Ping credits her love of the sport for her success as a player and coach.
"I've brought my enthusiasm," she said. "I've been happy with teams I've had."
She's also happy with the sport, despite what seems to be its state of perpetual change.
"The rules keep changing," she said. "I like the new rally scoring in some ways. It makes for a faster game. But for the players, it means you have to concentrate all the time."
There are a few things she would like to see. One is for China to host the Olympic Games. Beijing is being considered as the site for the 2008 Summer Games.
"We may have a good chance," she said. "Hopefully, we can all work together to make it happen."
The other wish is for more women coaches at the international level.
"It was hard being the only one," Ping said. "I know that there will be more. You're seeing more now at the university level.
"We know how to play the game. It's like, 'Hey, give us some credit.' "