Lausanne, Switzerland, May 10, 2012 – In the culture of their country 2012 is the Year of the Dragon and China’s top women’s beach volleyball pair, Chen Xue and Xi Zhang, are hoping that the power, strength and good fortune represented by the iconic symbol will help equip them for a gold medal run at the London Olympic Games, as well as another medal-winning performance in the 2012 FIVB SWATCH World Tour.
After stunning a world class field to capture the bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Xue and Zhang are preparing for the 2012 Games at Horse Guards Parade as not only one of the favourites for another medal but serious contenders to unseat USA’s two-time defending Olympic champions, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh.
“Probably our greatest opponent right now is pressure and the will to win the gold medal in London,” said Zhang, at 26 the senior partner. “We play well as a team, and there are many great teams we have to beat, but handling the pressure is what we are trying to get better at doing. In 2008 there was very little pressure on us because we were China No.2, and while we enjoy being China No.1 now, the pressure is very intense, especially the pressure we put on ourselves.”
They began playing together in 2006 when they won gold at the Asian Games as well as on the World Tour at Phuket and Shanghai where, at the age of just 17, Xue became the youngest ever Tour winner. Following the Beijing Olympics they played with different partners on the 2009 FIVB SWATCH World Tour, but they got back together two seasons ago. They won three gold medals in 2010, two more in 2011 and finished third overall both seasons. Last year they also won the bronze medal at the FIVB SWATCH World Championships in Rome.
“I have a wonderful team-mate in Chen and together we are becoming a very good team,” said Zhang. “She especially proved it during the last event in Phuket in 2011 when I re-injured my knee in the semifinals and she literally carried me on her back in the final and we won the gold medal by beating [Jennifer] Kessy and [April] Ross in two sets.”
Despite their relative youth Xue and Zhang are already very experienced competitors. This season will be the eighth on Tour for Xue, who hails from Fujian province on China’s south-east coast, while Zhang, whose home town is Nantong, to the north in Jiangsu province, played in one event in both 2002 and 2003 before starting full-time on the Tour in 2004.
They have spent much of their pre-season training in Sanya, where they won a second gold medal on home soil in 2010, and for several years they have also trained on the beaches of Los Angeles with many of the world’s top beach volleyball teams. “We are still learning how to play the game and how to play against the great teams from around the world,” said Xue.
“We enjoyed playing at the Olympic test event in London last August, to help prepare us for that amazing venue this year. Even though we were playing in our own country in 2008 in Beijing, the expectations for us were totally different to this year. Now we have to continue working hard, playing better on the World Tour events before London and play as one in the Olympics and we will do well.”
“We know where we need to improve, physically and mentally,” said Zhang, “and with London as our focus we will continue to prepare ourselves for the wonderful experience of the Olympics and to make the most of the opportunity this summer. We have an opportunity of a lifetime in 2012, and while we continue to learn to balance pressure and relaxing, we have to work on improving our teamwork even more to end up where we want to be this summer in London.”
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|Probably our greatest opponent right now is pressure and the will to win the gold medal in London. (Zhang Xi)|
FIVB SWATCH World Tour events: 67
Gold medals: 9
Silver medals: 11
Bronze medals: 10
Final four placements: 31
Tour earnings (US$): 1,103,300
Individual World Tour honours
2006 Xue voted Rookie of the Year
2008 Zhang voted Most Outstanding Player
2010 Zhang voted Best Defensive Player