Davis has been stampeded by journalists and adoring well-wishers trying to get to her coach. When the US team came to China for an event in Ningbo in 2005 with Lang as their new coach, some tickets for the US-China match sold for $180. During the match, fans cheered, “Lang Ping, I love you!”
“It’s more than just sports, she’s a historical figure,” Davis says.
Obliquely, Lang admits as much. When she led her team to the World Cup title in 1981, it expanded the Chinese people’s sense of what was possible. A nation of badminton and table-tennis players had beaten the world at one of its own sports.
“Since then, the Chinese people think we can do well in everything – not just sports,” says Lang.
For a woman who, at 6 feet tall, already stands out, the adoration became overwhelming. After retiring, she went to the University of New Mexico.
“I went to the US because I wanted to taste a normal life,” she says. “It’s pretty tiring to stay in your room all the time. You can’t even go to a movie.”
When Chow went to the United States, his family thought he was crazy.
“Gymnasts in China are like football players” in the US, he says.
He had become co-captain of the Chinese team by 1990. But he sensed that he had progressed as far as he could in Chinese gymnastics, so he took a full scholarship to Iowa. At first, he was not sure he had made the right decision.
“I almost wanted to go back because of culture shock,” he laughs.
He laughs often, a self-effacing smile that is easy to see reflected in Johnson herself. She is his baby almost as much as Chow and his wife, Zhuang Liwen, are a sort of second set of parents to Johnson.