TOKYO, Aug. 1 (Xinhua) -- China's legendary volleyball coach Lang Ping said she would take the blame after the defending champions crashed out in the group stage at the Tokyo Olympics, its worst performance in nearly 40 years.
The Chinese women's volleyball team swept Italy 3-0 on Saturday evening, but the victory came too late as they had lost the first three group matches in Tokyo - against Turkey, the United States and Russia.
Turkey's straight-set win over Argentina and the USA's loss against Russia meant that China was already eliminated by the time it took on unbeaten Italy at the Ariake Arena.
Failing to make it to the quarterfinals marks China's worst finish at the Olympics since winning the title in Los Angeles in 1984. China's previous lowest ranking was seventh in 1992 at the Barcelona Games.
"I take all the blame as I'm the head coach. When facing difficulties, I could not find a solution and lead the team out of the trap," Lang said, choking for a moment during the post-match interview.
"I am really sorry that we failed to live up to the expectations of our fans back in China. They are so loyal and supportive to us."
Having led China to triumph in three major tournaments, including the World Cup in 2015, 2019 and the Rio Olympic Games in 2016, Lang attributed her team's lackluster performance in Tokyo to excessive reliance on the star spiker Zhu Ting, who has been plagued with a wrist injury.
"When Zhu had problems hitting the ball and making the kills, her teammates did not react quickly enough and come to rescue," said Lang, known as the "Iron Hammer" during her days as a player.
"We knew Zhu had problems with her wrist but did not know it would get worse, and it became so difficult for her to hit the ball."
Regarded as one of the best outside hitters in the world, Zhu only converted on 34 of her 96 killing attempts at Tokyo 2020, far below her statistics at the Rio Olympics and the 2019 World Cups, where she was twice named the MVP.
"Zhu has always been in good health and great shape during the last few years, and she played a pivotal role in helping us win the titles. We kind of took it for granted and failed to adapt to the change. I made some changes to the line-up, but it did not work so well," said Lang.
Lang admitted that the COVID-19 pandemic was also a factor for China's early exit from the Tokyo Games.
"Training for over a year with no international competitions to play has been a big challenge for the players. The postponement of the Tokyo Games made it difficult for the team to stay focused," she noted.
"I'm not looking for an excuse for our defeat, but these were the factors that we should have dealt with properly. We have worked really hard, but nevertheless, it seems that our preparations were not good enough."
Having witnessed the ups and downs of Chinese volleyball both as a player and coach, Lang has told her team to take some positive out of their under-achieving performance.
"Regrets are a part of life. We have to learn to face them and accept them," said the 60-year-old.
"I want to tell the young players that you won't have a plain sailing all along, both on and off the court. I think this (defeat) is a kind of fortune and we have to learn to accept it."
Lang, who took over the Chinese team early in 2013, also revealed that she would probably quit from the post after Tokyo 2020.
"I have been with the team for so many years. My health condition is not so good, so I think we should let talented young coaches take charge and lead the young players to go forward," she said.