Sat, Aug 11, 2018 - Page 16 News List

Volleyball captain Zhu leads Chinese team


Zhu Ting returns during a semi-final against the Netherlands at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 18, 2016.

Photo: AP

A towering volleyball player who makes her living in Turkey is to be the unrivaled star of China’s squad at the Asian Games in Indonesia starting on Saturday next week.

Zhu Ting is something of an anomaly in China’s sporting world, which still largely relies on its highly disciplined and deeply nationalistic sports academies to produce champions who dominate at events such as the Asiad.

Her professional success demonstrates how Chinese athletes are looking for new avenues to develop their talents, and sports administrators are hoping that will spark a resurgence in the nation’s fortunes after China placed third in the medal standings at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Despite her already considerable achievements, the 23-year-old Zhu does not mask her thirst for greater glory.

“Champion, MVP, best attacker, I’ve nabbed them all, but still, champion [is my goal],” she said in an interview with Hong Kong media. “No one can get too much.”

Zhu was the backbone of the women’s volleyball team that won gold at Rio, earning her the MVP award.

That was followed by a move to Vakifbank Istanbul, where she last year won the Turkish league title and was paid a reported salary of more than US$1.5 million — making her the world’s highest-paid volleyball player, male or female.

Unconfirmed reports say Russian club team Dinamo Kazan is prepared to increase that offer for the coming season.

Standing at 1.98m, Zhu is the middle of five girls in a family from rural Henan Province. She entered the junior national team at 16 and won her first MVP award at the Asian Juniors in 2012. The next year she was promoted to the senior squad by legendary coach Jenny “Iron Hammer” Lang Ping, who is again leading China’s squad and continues to sing Zhu’s praises.

“We’re lucky to have such a gifted athlete as Zhu Ting,” Lang said at a charity event late last year. “But not everyone in Chinese women’s volleyball team has to be her.”

China, who dominated the medal standings at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, are to field 845 athletes. Of those, 631 have no Asiad or Olympic experience in an indication of how China is developing a squad of younger talent in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and beyond.

“This Asian Games functions as a midterm test and a valuable experience leading up to Tokyo 2020, and also serves as a comprehensive check on the state of competitive sports in China,” Chinese General Administration of Sport Director of Competition Liu Guoyong was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

Among the familiar names is swimmer Sun Yang, winner of 2016 Olympic gold in the 200m freestyle and holder of the world record in the 1,500m.

Sprinter Su Bingtian, holder of the Asian men’s record in the 100m, leads the track-and-field squad, while basketball fans will be looking for a strong performance by Zhou Qi, who last year signed with the NBA’s Houston Rockets.

China’s table tennis squad is to be boosted by the presence of Ma Long, the Olympic and world champion and holder of the No. 1 ranking for 64 months, the most of any male player.

Shuttler Lin Dan is to be competing in his fifth Asian Games at the age of 34, despite a string of defeats at the hands of much less experienced opponents.

Some in China have begun to question whether it is time for the 2008 and 2012 Olympic badminton champion to hang up his racket, although the player known as “Super Dan” says he is not bothered by such questions.

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