Former Hungary Women's coach Gabriella Kotsis (left) and USA Women's coach "Jenny" Lang Ping
Lausanne, April 1, 2008 – "Jenny" Lang Ping will be in pretty exalted company among Women Olympic Volleyball coaches when she leads out the USA Women’s national team at the Beijing Games in August.
She is set to be the only woman Volleyball coach present at the Games, with no other women leading teams qualified or in a position to qualify for the tournament. That's quite an exclusive club in itself, but perhaps even more prestigious is joining former Hungary coach Gabriella Kotsis as one of only two Women Volleyball coaches to lead teams at multiple Olympics.
Lang led the Chinese Women's team to the silver medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games, during a successful period as national team coach that also included a bronze medal finish at the 1995 World Cup and a silver medal at the 1998 World Championships.
Kotsis led the Hungarian Women's team during a golden era of Volleyball for the Magyars. She was coach for three straight Olympics in 1972, 1976 and 1980. In the latter two Games in Montreal and then Moscow, Kotsis just missed out on leading her teams to medal finishes by twice losing the bronze medal match.
For Lang, coaching the USA on her home turf in Beijing promises to be another milestone in the spectacular career of the player and coach known in her heyday as the "Iron Hammer."
"I feel very honoured as a female coach to go back to the Olympics," Lang said recently. "I very much enjoy coaching at this level. My career as a player has helped me learn to coach at this level a lot. It has helped me stay coaching at this level for a very long time."
Lang admits she is surprised at being the sole woman coach among the world's top teams, but feels this may be more of a lifestyle choice for women coaches rather than a glass ceiling.
"I would hope there would be more female coaches to coach at this level, as we coach the female athletes," said Lang. "Especially in the United States, lots of female coaches coach at the collegiate level. On the other hand, I know lots of female coaches who have lots of responsibilities for their families. They spend more time with their kids.
"At the international level, you travel a lot and do not have much time to spend with your family. I still believe there are a lot of great female coaches who, if they wanted, can coach and succeed at international level," said Lang.
The 80-year-old Kotsis, who still coaches youth Volleyball at a sports school in Hungary, believes more women will get the chance to mirror her and Lang's amazing achievements in the future.
"I think, as in every field of life, women will get more chances in the 'head' role," Kotsis said recently. "But I have to underline, coaching, it is a man's world, the women coaches have to prove their ability more, should work harder, than their male colleagues."
One such woman who has succeeded is Lang, although no one could argue with her credentials. The 47-year-old was inducted into the Volleyball Hall of Fame on Oct. 18, 2002, culminating an incredible playing career that saw Lang establish herself as one of the finest Women Volleyball players ever.
She was a member of the Chinese Women's national team that won an Olympic gold medal over the United States at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, a World Championship crown in 1982 and World Cup titles in 1981 and 1985. Revered by Chinese fans, Lang has been honoured with her own postage stamp, had her wedding broadcast on Chinese national television and has stadiums named after her in China.
Kotsis remembers being impressed by Lang from afar, with perhaps the only chance of coach and player ever meeting being the 1980 Moscow Games, which China boycotted.
"In the time the Chinese team approached the top of the Volleyball world, Lang Ping was the best player," said Kotsis, herself a former Hungary national team player in the 1940s and '50s. "It was interesting; she was able to perform a real Asian style (of play) even though she was taller than the average height of Chinese players."
After Lang's playing career ended, she coached a number of club teams and also the Chinese national team, a job she stepped down from in 1999. She took over from Toshi Yoshida as USA Women's national team coach in early 2005 and is pleased to have the chance to lead another country at the Olympics.
"I am very happy to have coached two very different styles of Volleyball to the Olympics, along with how to learn and coach in different cultures in different countries," said Lang. "I have learned a lot, not just in terms of Volleyball. You have to learn the cultures first before coaching Volleyball to know (the players’) philosophies."
A little bit of Lang is, of course, also looking forward to what promises to be a warmly received homecoming.
"I am very honoured to have this opportunity to coach the USA team at the Olympics in my hometown and country," said Lang. "The United States has reached a very high level in the world. It is an honour for me, as well as for Chinese Volleyball.
"I used to learn and coach Volleyball in China. It shows how strong Chinese Volleyball is internationally. Hopefully, the Chinese fans are also very proud of me, too," said Lang.
One person who will be keeping an eye on proceedings is Kotsis, looking for some ideas to pass on to her protégés.
"I am up to date with modern Volleyball, watching all matches when I can," said Kotsis, who admits she still feels a twinge of disappointment over missing out on an Olympic medal during her time leading Hungary.
"I will try to follow on television the matches at the Olympic Games ... If I do then (what I see) will be applied in my work according to my players’ abilities.
"I love still coaching. I still have dreams to create and apply new methods. It is my pleasure if I can successfully teach somebody using my system," said Kotsis.