The China Sports Column is a SupChina weekly feature.
In Chinese team sports, it’s the women who usually outshine the men, and this past week was no different. A straight-sets loss to Iran in the Tokyo Olympic Volleyball qualifiers destroyed the Chinese men’s team’s Olympic hopes — while the women will be heading to Tokyo as the favorite to win gold.
The men’s team went into the game hopeful despite losing to Iran early in the qualifying tournament. However, Iran, who arrived as favorites in Jiangmen, were just too powerful for a Chinese men’s team that has only reached the Olympics twice in 24 years.
The straight-sets loss (25-14, 25-22, 25-14) will be seen by some as an embarrassment, especially because China boasts the top women’s team in the world.
Following the loss, head coach Shen Fulin admitted that the performance had been bad and blamed the loss on the stress of expectations.
The women, on the other hand, had a fantastic 2019, going unbeaten on its way to winning the Volleyball World Cup in Japan in September.
Zhū Tíng 朱婷 of the women’s side (pictured above) was the MVP of the World Cup. The 25-year-old, who plies her trade with Tianjin Bohai Bank, is the highest paid player (male or female) in the world, and could become one of the faces of the Chinese Olympic team this summer.
Men’s soccer also fails to qualify for Olympics
The men’s U23 soccer team also failed to punch a ticket to Tokyo. But unlike the volleyball team — which reached the final — the soccer side finished the AFC U23 Championship winless, goalless, and rock bottom of Group C.
China kicked off its miserable tournament with a late loss to rivals South Korea. Despite conceding in the 93rd minute, the game was overshadowed by an injury to Beijing Guo’an striker and main goal threat Zhāng Yùníng 张玉宁.
From the late loss to Korea, things went from bad to worse. A 2-0 loss to Uzbekistan spelled the end to China’s Olympic soccer hopes. While the loss and failure to qualify may have hurt, it was the sorry performance of the players that is the biggest cause for concern.
The lack of creativity and quality was exposed once more on Wednesday, a 1-0 loss to Iran that followed the same pattern as the other two losses, with the Chinese struggling in possession and failing to use possession in any meaningful way.
The CFA has to be worried by the display of the young side after all the money that has been invested into youth development during the past decade. The absence of creative players and teamwork have been the hallmarks of the pain of international Chinese football.
Youth Winter Games
While the performances of the men’s volleyball and soccer teams may have been abject, there are reasons to be cheerful for Chinese sports fans. The Chinese delegation to Lausanne for the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) — which started January 9 and will end next Wednesday, January 22 — has seen China claim a gold, silver, and a couple of bronzes.
The YOG, which features athletes between 14 and 18, has seen China’s young winter athletes make strides before the Beijing Winter games in two years’ time. Team China already look to be heading toward achieving its goal of equaling its impressive performance four years ago in Lillehammer, when China earned three golds, five silvers, and two bronzes.
The current solitary gold medal belongs to 17-year-old speed skater Yáng Bīnyú 杨滨瑜, who won the women’s mass start event on Thursday after winning bronze in the 1,500-meter event a day before.
Yang — who looks like she could be a star of Chinese sports in the future — was delighted after winning gold, especially after narrowly missing gold in the 1,500-meter and the podium in the 500-meter race.
The speed skating events were a bit of a throwback, as the racing took place outdoors on frozen Lake St. Moritz, rather than the indoor arena CIG de Malley, home of the short track events.
In upcoming events, Team China will be looking for medals in freestyle skiing, short track speed skating, and snowboarding, which all finish next week. Currently, China is sitting above winter sport powerhouses Finland, the U.S., and Germany, as well as Asian rivals South Korea. While it will be unlikely that China will stay above them by the end of the competition, the team has been a bright spot amid a week of disappointments.
The China Sports Column runs every week on SupChina.