1984 Olympic championship, hundreds of excited fans hit the streets
of Beijing, setting off fireworks and chanting, ''Long live the
volleyball team!'' Since then, the Chinese women have completed the
same triple crown as the U.S. men, adding wins at the 1985 World Cup
and 1986 world championships, and, led by setter Yang Xilan, they
could pull off a repeat performance in Seoul.
But hold the firecrackers -- the Chinese must meet the challenge
of Peru, where volleyball ranks second only to soccer as a national
passion. Starring 6 ft. 5 in. Gabriela Perez del Solar -- one of the
most intimidating middle blockers in the game -- Peru finished third
in the '86 world championships. The U.S., which won the silver in
'84, has assembled a strong, mostly new squad featuring two-time team
MVP Caren Kemner, 6 ft. 3 in. middle blocker Kim Oden, 19-year-old
hitter sensation Keba Phipps, and setter Laurel Kessel, 34, a 1980
Olympian who took a leave of absence from her job as women's
volleyball coach at New Mexico in order to play for the U.S. team.
The Americans have a shot at a medal, but to make the medal round
they will have to beat Peru or China in the preliminaries -- a
daunting prospect.
The U.S. men are the favorites, but the Soviets, despite their
loss to the Americans in the USA Cup in June, are always a threat.
France, second to the U.S.S.R. in last year's European championships,
and Japan, 1987 Asian champions, are the best of the rest.