Work in Sports
U.S. marches, China practices ahead of showdown
ALTONA NORTH, Australia (AP) -- As the U.S. women's soccer team prepared to march, their Chinese rivals prepared to practice.
At a sunny park west of Melbourne surrounded by near-deserted streets -- after all, the rest of the world was watching the start of the Olympics' Opening Ceremonies -- a dour China squad led by an angry coach began a Friday evening workout ahead of Sunday's match with the United States.
The practice was already going to coincide with the ceremonies, but it began some 40 minutes late after a horrific day of travel. A team spokeswoman said there was a two-hour delay on the short flight from Canberra, where China defeated Nigeria 3-1 the previous night, and the bus ride to the field was slowed by traffic as Australians rushed home from work to watch the official start of the Sydney Games.
The players appeared tired as they stepped off the bus. Coach Ma Yuanan was so upset by the delays that he closed the practice to reporters and declined to make himself or his players available for interviews.
The Chinese decided not to march in the Opening Ceremonies because it would have been too disruptive to fly to Sydney for the day. The U.S. players decided otherwise, leaving their hotel Friday morning for the 80-minute flight after some light jogging and stretching.
Coach April Heinrichs left the decision to march to her players, and she asked them to reconsider their decision just before arriving in Australia. The team has only two days between its 2-0 victory over Norway on Thursday and the game against China, so a flight out of town and two-plus hours of standing and marching late at night weren't exactly ideal preparation.
"I posed it to them and the team said they'd like to take a vote, and they unanimously voted to go," Heinrichs said. "I support the decision. They're great self-monitors. They're very well-traveled. It's no big deal for them to fly to New York, do a four-hour photo shoot and fly home that night. I think the majority of them know they will be self-policing to stay off their feet."
All week, the players looked forward to the ceremonies. All their first-round games are in Melbourne, so this was their only chance to enjoy the Olympic city until the final days of the games.
"We're going to enjoy the Olympic experience," midfielder Kristine Lilly said. "Out here, there's not that much going on."
It helps that the China game isn't a must-win after the convincing victory over Norway. The Americans could lose Sunday and still qualify for the semifinals with a victory over Nigeria on Wednesday.
But Heinrichs doesn't want to give any momentum to the Chinese, who want to use this tournament to settle a score after losing to the United States on penalty kicks in last year's World Cup final.
"They have this collective resolve," Heinrichs said, "that says `We're a great team, too, America, and we're coming after you.'"