To fight at the court of the Olympic Games is a dream for Shen Qiong, captain of the Chinese men's volleyball team since he first got into the sports as a second grader.
With six-time national titles and one Asian Games silver medal in hand, the three-time winner of China's most popular male volleyballer is hoping to lift his career to a new high at home in August.
"It's the second time for the men's team to appear at the Olympics, but for all of us (current men's team), this is the first time and our goal is to enter the final eight," said Shen.
China's record on the Olympic stage is a lone eighth-placed finish at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. This time, Shen and his teammates pre-secured an Olympic berth as host.
Facing tough preliminary round rivals Italy, the United States, Bulgaria, Japan and Venezuela, the 1.98-meter wing spike wants not only to be impressed, but also to be impressive.
"The Olympic Games is always of a birthplace of dreams and miracles. I believe our performance will not let the home fans down," said Shen.
Born to a worker family in Shanghai in 1981, Shen inherited athletic tradition from his grandfather, president of a local sports school.
His conspicuous height, which Shen once blamed for his lonely childhood, made him a perfect choice for a sports school teacher who was organizing a new junior volleyball team of Jing'an District.
But what inspired the eight-year-old Shen to choose volleyball is the Chinese women volleyball team, a national icon in the 1980s after wrapping up crowns of the World Cup, World Championship and Olympics from 1981 to 1986.
"My whole families were so excited every time their images appeared on TV and I thought if I could play volleyball, I would become hero for everyone," recalled Shen.
Shen joined the national team seven years ago and soon he was referred to as a successor of the No.1 Asian attacker Zhang Xiang, the then Chinese captain, for his resembling devastating attack and quick moves.
Seven years later, the 27-year-old, nicknamed by his teammates as "rhino" for his wide mouth and quietness off the court, has developed into a valuable leader of the young Chinese squad.
His leadership has mellowed especially after the retirement of his best friend Tang Miao, another key Chinese player.
Tang, also from Shanghai, is still in hospital after severely injuring his cervical vertebrae damaged during a training session in Russia last year.
"We used to dream of fighting together at the Beijing Olympics. But now, he can't be there, which makes me sad but also pushes me to work even harder," said Shen. "I will go all out to realize the dream of us."
The Shen-led China scored a five-set win over old rival Japan and staged a stunning 3-1 victory over strong Poland at the 2008 World League in June.
"Shen is the type of player with leadership mentality -- all-round skills, rich global competition experience and mature attitude to face ups and downs," said China's head coach Zhou Jian'an.
"I hope he is able to lead the team to realize the dream of the Chinese men vollleyballers for years."
(Xinhua News Agency July 18, 2008)