The smiling faces and encouraging high-fives were immediately replaced by misty eyes and tight hugs after 1.96m middle blocker Zhao Ruirui scored the decisive point to clinch the women`s volleyball bronze medal for China.
The whole team got emotional Saturday on the court that witnessed each of their inspiring victories and depressing losses at the Beijing Games.
China`s head coach Chen Zhonghe turned back and walked a few steps away from a frenzied crowd, wiping away tears with the sleeve of his red T-shirt.
Feng Kun of China (2) celebrates with teammates after winning their women`s bronze medal volleyball match against Cuba at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 23, 2008. [Agencies]
But the always-smiling coach later managed to regain his calm as he shook hands with his Cuban counterpart Antonio Perdomo, whose disappointment was evident on his face after the 25-16, 21-25, 25-13 and 25-20 loss to China.
Perdomo`s team, who had beaten China 3-2 in the preliminaries, finished its eighth Olympic journey in fourth place.
The bronze medal indeed meant a lot to defending champion China, which was in dire need of a victory after consecutive losses.
China`s players celebrate after winning their women`s bronze medal volleyball match against Cuba at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 23, 2008. [Agencies]
"The bronze medal does not come easily. It`s the unity of the whole team that sent us through. I have no regrets and this is the most honorable moment in my life," said China`s captain Feng Kun, who has been long haunted by knee injuries and was criticized for dragging the team down with her unstable performances.
The veteran player, once regarded as China`s best female setter, has decided to retire after the Games.
China`s head coach Chen did not bother to control tears at the post-match press conference. He described the process as "very bitter and very tough" to revive from the depressing loss to Brazil.
Without making it clear whether he would continue coaching the team, Chen said he has confidence in the future of Chinese women`s volleyball.
"Young players, like Wang Yimei and Ma Yunwen, have great potential. But remember, no pain, no gain. So long as they are ready to make efforts, the Chinese team will be a strong team in a few years," he said.
Unstoppable Brazil won its first-ever Olympic gold medal in women`s volleyball after beating the US 3-1 Saturday.
The Americans took home their second silver, having won one at the Los Angeles Games in 1984.