Ex-captain Zhu’s return boosts Chinese women’s volleyball team’s Paris hopes

China's Zhu Ting (right) spikes during the match against Turkey at the Tokyo Olympics on July 25. Photo: Cui Meng/Global Times

China’s Zhu Ting (right) spikes during the match against Turkey at the Tokyo Olympics on July 25, 2021. Photo: Cui Meng/Global Times

Chinese volleyball looks like it will get a shot in the arm as former captain of the national women’s team Zhu Ting announced a comeback via her personal social media account on Monday night. 

While playing for Pallavolo Scandicci in the Italian league, the 29-year-old volleyball icon said on her X-like Sina Weibo account that she will return to the national team during the 2024 Volleyball Women’s Nations League that is scheduled to begin in May.

The most valuable player during China’s run to Olympic gold at the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016 said that “the sole objective of my return is to help the national team secure qualification for the Paris Olympics.”

To achieve this end and avoid any distractions and misunderstandings, Zhu has shunned all commercial activities.

“I will not participate in any commercial activities or endorsements while with the national team. I will focus on recovering my physical fitness as quickly as possible to catch up with the national team. I will devote myself wholeheartedly to training and matches, working together with the team to secure qualification for the Paris Games,” Zhu noted. 

As one of the most recognizable faces in Chinese sports, Zhu is to the national women’s volleyball team what Yao Ming was to the national basketball team.

Her timely return to the national team undoubtedly provides a significant morale boost to the squad, given her experience, talent, and leadership qualities. 

Zhu’s presence on the court not only elevates the team’s performance but also serves as an inspiration to her teammates and fans alike.

With the other addition of Zhang Changning, another Rio Olympic champion who returned in February, the national team’s prospects for securing a place in the Paris Games have significantly improved. 

The team, comprising both promising young talents and experienced veterans, has reignited hopes for a successful campaign in Paris.

Qualifying for the Olympic Games is of great significance for any national team. However, for the women’s volleyball team, which holds a special place in Chinese sports history, missing the Olympic Games is hard to swallow for fans. 

Since their groundbreaking victory at the 1981 World Cup, the volleyball team has been a source of immense national pride for China. 

Their achievements on the international stage, including three Olympic gold medals and multiple world championship titles, have elevated the country’s profile. Their dedication, teamwork, and perseverance have inspired generations of athletes to pursue excellence in sports. 

Currently engaged in close-door training under head coach Cai Bin, the team has to fight for a high world ranking at the coming Volleyball Nations League to secure a spot for the Paris Olympics.

Regarded as one of the best volleyball players in the world, Zhu’s experience and skill set make her an invaluable asset to the team, particularly in high-stakes matches where her leadership and composure can make a difference.

In her announcement, she revealed that she had once lost interest in volleyball and all but retired due to injury and rumors.

“From the end of 2023 to this year’s Spring Festival, I suffered serious fatigue and a slump in form to the point where I couldn’t even handle routine matches. The various rumors and deliberate attacks against me on the internet since the Tokyo Games, weighed on me and even affected my family. I once lost interest in volleyball, so I had submitted a retirement application,” Zhu said on Sina Weibo. 

She attributed her comeback to former national team coach Lang Ping, who repeatedly helped her analyze her physical and technical problems and urged her to strengthen physical training. Lang masterminded the team to the gold medal at the 2016 Rio Games, becoming the first person in volleyball history to have won Olympic gold both as a player and as a coach.

Having recovered from a wrist injury, Zhu has been regaining her form and restoring confidence. Her comeback and her role in helping China qualify for the Paris Olympic Games will highlight her enduring legacy in the world of volleyball. 

The author is a reporter with the Global Times. [email protected]