Coming back from a three-year absence from the Chinese women's national team, star blocker Zhao Ruirui was dreaming of winning her second gold medal at the Olympics.
The 1.96-meter Zhao was a member of the Chinese team that captured the title at the 2004 Athens Games, but she only played several minutes of the first game before withdrawing from the rest of the competition with a broken leg.
"After the Athens Games, some people said that the gold medal was too easy for me, because I only played a few minutes," Zhao said. "The only thing I can tell them is that no athlete would like to win a gold medal this way."
The Olympics have been a dramatic memory for Zhao, the most popular Chinese volleyball player in the post Lang Ping era.
Nine years ago, Zhao became a member of the Chinese national team at the age of 18 and was hopeful to make her Olympic debut at Sydney. However, she was forced out of the national team due to a severe injury to her meniscus in right knee suffered from a training in October 1999.
"I spent quite a lot of time crying after the hit," Zhao recalled. "But I was confident in my future and I was looking forward to the Athens Games."
Having recovered from the injury, Zhao joined Chen Zhonghe's side as he took the helm of the Chinese national team in 2001 and soon became one of the most important players.
In the year of 2003, everything seemed to run in the right direction for Zhao, who emerged as one of the best middle blockers of the world as she helped China claim back-to-back titles in the World Grand Prix Finals and the World Cup.
"I was in top form, so was the Chinese team," said Zhao. "And I began to plan for the Olympics."
However, Zhao was injured again in a training in March 2004, having a fracture to her right leg.
"It felt like an nightmare," Zhao said. "'Is it unreal', I asked myself."
It was real. She even heard the breaking of the bone.
After the surgery, Zhao began her race with the time in recovery and it was up to Chen Zhonghe to decide whether to take her to Athens.
"Two weeks before the Olympic Games, there were 13 players with the team and I knew our coach had not make up his mind," Zhao said. "All I could do was to try my best in recovery."
Chen Zhonghe finally decided to take Zhao to Athens and surprisingly put her to the starting line-up in China's first group match against the United States on August 14, but she got her right leg broken again on her first touch of the ball.
Then she spent the rest of the Games on the bench cheering for her teammates, who rallied past Russia 3-2 in the final for China's first Olympic gold medal in 20 years.
"Although I did not play, I was so happy that we won," Zhao said. "I was so nervous that I dared not look at the scoreboard."
"Some people said I was pitiful, I am not. Some people said the gold medal was too easy for me, I believe no athlete would like to win this way."
Having spent the next three years recovering from her injury, Zhao finally made her comeback in March 2008 in a series of warm-up games against Cuba.
"I had told myself not to give up and my efforts finally paid off," said Zhao, who was in final preparation with the national team in Tianjin.
"To play in the Olympics is a wonderful feeling. This time I would like work shoulder to shoulder with my teammates and try my best to win a well-deserved gold."
(Xinhua News Agency July 17, 2008)