Zhang Rongfang (CHN)

A joyful explosion of energy and wit

Zhang Rongfang displaying her usual joviality at the Los Angeles Olympics in 84. The horizontal stripe on her jersey under her team’s name symbolises her role as captain. By choosing her for that position, China benefitted from her never-ending enthusiasm and spark.

Back in the days when Lang Ping had led China into the international scene by winning the 1981 World Cup and the 1984 Olympics, Zhang Rongfang was China’s other outside hitter, a much shorter player than Lang Ping, but almost as effective in her attacks.

Zhang Rongfang had a cheery disposition on the court, very playful, almost child-like. A friend from China told me that her personality is characteristic of people from the province of Szechuan (though I’m not sure of this… I’m assuming he’s right), from where team-mate Liang Yan is also from (ditto the above).

Zhang’s jumps and spikes seemed so easily done that they infused the team with a vital confidence in its skills. Though Zhang Rongfang played brilliantly but in the shadow of the great Lang Ping, she deserves merit for co-coaching the Chinese team with Lang Ping at the 1986 World Championships in Czechoslovakia.

Together with Lang Ping, she took China to the final and to a 3-1 victory over Cuba. Even when coaching, it seemed like Zhang Rongfang was having a grand time, giggling innocently at the Cuban mistakes or at China’s miraculous plays which were not short of amazing.

During time-outs, Zhang was actually the one to go talk to her players, while Lang Ping seemed to be more of the thinking type. (That or she was still learning how to be a coach, which apparently worked really well in the latter half of the ’90s!)

One observation from the 1981 World Cup final against Japan:maybe it was the long-time rivalry China has with Japan, or the fact that China was playing on Japanese home court, or the fact that China was playing for its first major international tournament title, but Zhang Rongfang and her team-mates seemed to really take the match seriously. The Japanese played with their usual good-spirited, everything’s-alright type of attitude, whereas the Chinese played with hard fought competitiveness and a touch of malice, like they were going for the kill. In the end (and this can be said of anythermatches as well), that extra malice was decisive for the 3-2 victory against Japan. It was a thrilling match, one that I will always remember, with both teams trading well-placed hits, sweeping digs, and at times turning it into a battle of “Japan versus Lang Ping and Zhang Rongfang”.
At times, every ball Sun Jingfang set went to the outside hitters because they were so effective, but by the fifth set all of the Japanese players had learned how to dig up every single ball that Zhang and Lang were hitting! Yuko Mitsuya was unstoppable in the middle and so was rookie Kayoko Sugiyama.

But China won in the end by 17-15, I believe, and when they blocked one of the Japanese outside hitters on championship point, one of the Chinese players slammed the ball down towards the defeated Japanese with rage. Oh, and what was up with the last minute hairdos that most of the Chinese players were sporting?

Both Zhang and Lang and two other Chinese players had bundled their hair in what looked like messy emergency pony tails!Considering the short years that Zhang Rongfang’s career lasted (1980?-1984), it seems amazing how the sport of volleyball could produce two such different players at the same time – Zhang Rongfang and Mireya Luis.

Whereas the former was shorter than the latter, and with Mireya physically able to jump a whole lot more, Zhang Rongfang’s greatness seems all the more astounding.: Her incredible sense of court space allowed her to convert a set into an easy kill with her little two-footed hop and quick arm swing.

She fits into my category of those physically smaller players who helped push their teams with their energy and enthusiasm. In Peru we call these sorts of players “the little hearts of their teams”.

Lang Ping always kept her cool in between frissons after every point.

Zhang Rongfang always celebrated wildly, even pouting and laughing at her own mistakes. But in the end she always regained her confidence and played.

Reproduced with permission from Stjepanidzse’s Volleyball Hall of Fame.

This is the first of many past player profiles which we will be featuring in connection with Stjepanidze’s website.