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Preview: Xue/Zhang, China's sole hope for Olympic beach volleyball gold

07-11-2012 15:18 BJT Special Report:2012 London Olympic Games |

By Sportswriters Yi Ling, Xu Zheng

BEIJING, July 11 (Xinhua) -- China's young pair Xue Chen and Zhang Xi has shouldered the nation's expectation to pursue a first-ever beach volleyball gold medal in London, after a failed attempt at home four years ago.

More pressure fell upon the world's No. 2 duo, the bronze medal winners at the Beijing Games, as this time they have to fight for China's gold dream alone. Their seniors, Wang Jie and Tian Jia walked away from Beijing Games with silver medals and retired soon after.

"Our greatest opponent right now is pressure and the will to win the gold medal in London," said Zhang Xi, 27, the senior partner.

"We have a lifetime opportunity in 2012, and while we continue to learn to balance pressure and relaxing, we have to work on improving our teamwork. We need to improve both physically and mentally," she said.

The 23-year-old Xue hails from Fujian Province on China's southeast coast, while Zhang was born in Nantong, to the north in Jiangsu Province.

Xue and Zhang began to play together in 2006 when they won gold at the Asian Games. Following the Beijing Olympics, they played with different partners, but reunited two seasons ago. They won three gold medals in 2010 and two more in 2011 and finished third overall in both seasons.

However, head coach Miao Zhihong believed that Xue and Zhang still fall behind the Brazilians and Americans in techniques and ability to cope with the battle.

"We are not that strong as we expected. It's very hard to win the gold," said Miao.

Xu Li, director of the Volleyball Management Center of the General Administration of Sport, even called it "dangerous journey" for Xue and Zhang to reach the semifinals.

"An outdoor event like beach volleyball is highly affected by natural conditions. The conditions of the field and weather will affect the players' performances," he said.

Besides unfavorable natural conditions, USA's two-time defending champions Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, world's No. 1 Larissa Franca and Juliana Silva from Brazil, are meant to be the real threats.

But they will also face strong challenges from American up-and-comers Jen Kessy and April Ross. The two Americans missed on an Olympic bid in 2008 but have made big waves on the international volleyball scene over the four years since, including winning the 2009 World Championship.

On the men's side, China's sole pair Xu Linyin and Wu Penggen, ranked 11th, are not deemed as real contenders, especially when the 30-year-old Wu is still under treatment following his injury on left knee last year in Russia.

Brazil and the United States remain dominators on the beach. Defending champions Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers from the United States finished second in the world last season, following the Brazilian pair of Emanuel Rego and Alison Cerutti, who won the World Championship in 2011 and tour title.

The two countries both have another strong backup to gold competition with Brazil's Pedro Chuna and Ricardo Santos and the American duo of Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal. The German combo of Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann, who won the World Championship in 2009, will be most possible to challenge the Brazil-U.S. domination.

Editor:James |Source: Xinhua

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