Volleyball: Short can be sweet in sport of giants

LONDON Mon Jul 30, 2012 8:12am EDT

China's Zhang Xian tries to save a spike by South Korea during the women's volleyball final at the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, November 27, 2010. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

China's Zhang Xian tries to save a spike by South Korea during the women's volleyball final at the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, November 27, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Bobby Yip

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LONDON (Reuters) - The notion that all volleyball players need to tower over the net like beanpoles was put to rest at the Olympics on Monday when China's little libero Zhang Xian stole the show.

Standing just 1.67 meters tall among a team of giants, Zhang resembled a mouse surrounded by long grass but her scurrying runs around the court made all the difference.

Medal hopefuls China's 3-1 victory over Turkey in the Pool B match at London's cavernous Earl's Court Arena owed much to Zhang's constant energy and willingness to dive, dig and drive her team on.

"We don't have superstars in our side. I'm just part of the team," she told Reuters without a bead of sweat anywhere on her tiny frame despite the two-hour match.

"I'm trying to use my character to influence the team."

Zhang stands out in more ways than one because, at 27, she is one of the oldest members of China's team.

"Our libero performed very well today," China coach Juemin Yu told a news conference.

"With her experience and passing and blocking, she did great."

Zhang is also easily identifiable because she wears a different colored jersey to her team mates given volleyball's rules on liberos - traditionally smaller players who specialize in defense and are not allowed certain hits in certain areas of the court.

The libero is one of the many quirks of volleyball.

Helpers run on to sweep and clean the court at almost every stoppage and substitutes coming on hold up their own little sign to show which numbered player should come off. (Editing by Mark Meadows)

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