Just ‘proud to be Chinese’: gold-medal volleyball coach Lang Ping thanks Hongkongers for support during Rio Olympics

The national coach of women’s squad says different political views are ‘normal’ and encourages Hongkongers to take up sports

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 August, 2016, 4:19pm
UPDATED : Monday, 29 August, 2016, 11:27pm

From national star to “traitor” and back to heroine status again, China’s volleyball coach extraordinaire Lang Ping, who led the US team to victory against her homeland at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, says she does not care about such labels as she is only being professional.

Lang and her group of “golden girls” from China’s women’s volleyball team were in town over the weekend with other athletes from the national squad as part of a three-day visit by the Chinese 2016 Olympic delegation to Hong Kong.

In an exclusive interview with the Post on Monday, Lang, fresh from leading her team to gold in Rio, said it was very normal for Hong Kong to have different political opinions.

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The Chinese athletes’ visit came amid a backdrop of anti-mainland sentiments and the rise of localism in the city.

“I do not really pay attention to these things. I think for any country, this can happen,” she said. “When I was studying in the US, there are all these different [ways of] thinking which I think is okay and normal.”

Hongkongers had been very warm and supportive of China’s volleyball team, Lang added.

Lang, a legend in her sport, was the first person in volleyball to win the Olympic gold both as a player and coach.

Dubbed the “Iron Hammer”, Lang won gold as a star volleyball player for China at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

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Instead of becoming a government official like her former teammates after retirement in the 80s, she left to study sports management in the US.

In 2005, she took on the coaching job for the US women’s team, which eventually saw the US defeat China at the 2008 Beijing Olympics with Lang at the helm – a move which angered a great number of Chinese citizens who called her a “traitor”.

“I do not care about this. They have the right to think about their own ideas. It does not matter even if they like me or not,” Lang, now 55, said.

“I have my profession and my profession is volleyball.”

Lang said it was a “huge deal” for US – a country great in sports – to invite her to be the head coach for their national squad.

“I am very proud of myself because I am Chinese,” she said, but added that it was a “great experience” to coach American players.

In 2013, Lang was invited back to lead the Chinese national team. She agreed on condition that authorities stay away from the squad’s management.

Changes she brought about included a departure from the traditional military-style drills. Lang also invited foreign consultative experts to join her team.

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When asked if more autonomy helped with the team’s development and whether such a model could be applied to other sports in China, Lang said: “I do not really know the needs of other sports … But I guess so. You just need a plan and to let the leaders know. I am pretty sure everybody enjoys building up a strong team.”

Lang refused to reveal if she would coach the team for another four years, saying all she needed now was a vacation.

The former ace spiker, who said she did not have any free time to walk around the city during the three-day visit, also called on Hongkongers to do more sports.

“You do not have to be a professional,” she said. “If everybody loves sports … exercises, [and lives] a healthy life, I think that is good enough.”