TOKYO (Reuters) – Defending women’s champions China were stunned in straight sets by Turkey in their Olympic volleyball Pool B opener on Sunday, going down 25-21 25-14 25-14 at the Ariake Arena.
China, who have won six Olympic medals in women’s volleyball including three gold, were overpowered by the Turks for whom opposite hitter Ebrar Karakurt — with her distinctive bright pink hair — led the way with 18 points.
Three of her team mates finished in double figures while Turkey’s defence also proved to be too good for China, with Hande Baladin and libero Simge Akoz making 13 successful digs to keep the ball in play.
The Chinese lacked cohesion throughout the encounter and coach Lang Ping made several substitutions to find the right combination while Turkey stuck with the same line-up for all three sets.
“Right now we’re so happy because we know that Chinese are a great team, they have incredibly talented players and they are the Olympic champions,” Turkey captain Eda Dundar, who led the match with four blocks, told reporters.
“Today we served well… In every part of the game we were leading. Maybe China didn’t play their best game but we played our best game.”
China’s top scorer Zhang Changning (13 points) said they must “prepare from zero” for the upcoming games.
Japan’s Mayu Ishikawa followed in her elder brother Yuki’s footsteps by top-scoring with 13 points, alongside Ai Kurogo, as the hosts made short work of an error-prone Kenya in a 25-15 25-11 25-23 victory.
Yuki had scored 15 points on Saturday as Japan beat Venezuela for their first Olympic victory in 29 years.
Earlier, Jordan Thompson scored 20 points to lead top-ranked U.S. to a comprehensive victory over Argentina, with the 2016 bronze medallists winning 25-20 25-19 25-20 to open their account in Pool B.
Thompson was supported at the net by Jordan Larson, who had 10 points, while Michelle Bartsch-Hackley added 13.
“The two Jordans were able to find a good connection,” U.S. head coach Karch Kiraly told reporters while middle blocker Foluke Akinradewo said the team had a “gold medal mentality”.
“We’re going for gold, 100%,” Akinradewo said. The Americans have won five Olympic medals in women’s volleyball, but never the gold.
In the other Pool B encounter, Italy were tested in their opening set against the Russian Olympic Committee team but won 25-23 25-19 25-14 while Serbia cruised past the Dominican Republic in Pool A.
(Reporting by Toshiki Hashimoto, Yuka Obayashi in Tokyo and Rohith Nair and Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru, editing by Ed Osmond and Pritha Sarkar)