I was very happy to be able to watch them play at Tokyo few days ago (picture above), in round two of the 2010 World Championships.
China played against Japan to a 3-1 victory. The Yoyogi Stadium where they played at was packed full. While the Japanese spectators were very loud cheering for the home team, I thought they were very polite. That politeness is very difficult to explain unless you are physically there.
Sitting next to me was a 5-year old Japanese girl. She was really into the match. Before the game, the MC cheer-lead and taught the audience using balloon sticks to cheer for the home team. The girl managed to follow most of it. Since I was cheering for the Chinese team, I think she was a little bit confused during the match as she expected everyone in the audience to cheer for Japan.Japan’s #12 player, Saori Kimura was almost unstoppable. Just about every set going to her resulted in kills. During their starting line up, I recall seeing the Japanese setter’s head barely reached her armpit. China’s strategy was to continuously serve Saori (the Japanese refer to her with her first name) and wear her down.
After the game, and by coincidence, I met Poland’s team coach in the metro and we spoke briefly about the match. Poland is in the same pool of this second round (top 2 goes to semi-finals), so the Polish coach was watching to see how the teams played. I commented Poland is one of the prettier teams. He mentioned that China does not have a “free” player with the current roster. By that, he meant China’s current team does not have a super player like Saori Kimura or Gamova of Russia who can be relied on to always be dominant on the court.
He also told me he thought China played better last year. I guess China is starting afresh and aiming for 2012 or 2016. I complimented some of his players during their hard-won match (3-2) against Korea. His team played Russia (the current number one team in the world) the following day so I wished his team luck. (They ended up loosing 0-3.)On China’s team, I was really impressed with #1 WANG Yimei during the first two sets. She is super strong and visibly sufficiently built. The audience wowed every time she jump served. WANG is not particularly tall, but she seems to always able to find holes in the block. Like Japan’s #12, Wang was unstoppable. Every time she gets a set, the audience would yell out, “ganbare” which has the same effect of saying, “go go go” to the Japanese blockers.
Unfortunately, she seemed really tired and was ineffective during the 3rd and 4th sets. Overall, the Chinese team played well as a team. They made very few mistakes.
Below is a behind the scenes video on how the Chinese women’s volleyball team trains. You will notice WANG Yimei practicing hitting. In the beginning of the video, you will see the players doing stomach strengthening exercises. If you watch every player carefully during hitting, you might notice the players “crunching” their stomach at the same time. This gives the swing maximum torque and enables the hardest hit possible.
In case you wonder how these players are not covering their faces when digging. Well, they are trained to take very hard hits.
Perhaps the most fun part of the China vs. Japan match was watching the liberos on both sides, ZHANG Xian and SANO Yuko. They both were at times literally flying on the court digging up spikes.
I haven’t heard the Chinese national anthem played in a while. So it was an interesting experience to be in Japan’s Yoyogi National Stadium with it blazing before the match.