FAIRFAX, Va. -- When Terry Liskevych was named the U.S. Olympic women's volleyball team coach in 1985, he had only a few small problems.
"I didn't have a player, a file or a videotape," he said.
But what Liskevych had was a dream -- to put together a program that would contend for an Olympic medal.
"I thought it would take four years," he said. "I was wrong."
Now, with four months to go before the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, Liskevych and his U.S. team are making their final push to what they hope will be a gold medal. Last night at the Patriot Center, they continued their long pre-Olympic campaign with the opening match in a five-event series against China.
Despite a 16-14, 12-15, 15-13, 17-16 loss, Liskevych and his players did not seem particularly upset. This is, after all, volleyball's version of spring training, a time to stretch muscles, test rookies and juggle line ups.
"We're on course," Liskevych said.
So, apparently, is China, the Olympic gold medalist in 1988 and bronze medalist in 1992. Despite a 30-hour journey from Beijing to northern Virginia by way of San Francisco, New York and the New Jersey Turnpike, the Chinese displayed their familiar blend of offensive patience and defensive brilliance.
"Overall, our program is in good shape," said Chinese coach Hu Jin. "I think we have a good future in Barcelona. And so does the U.S."
The Americans are built around outside hitter Caren Kemner, a 26-year-old native of Quincy, Ill., who had 27 kills, and Kim Oden, the 27-year-old middle blocker and team captain from Irvine, Calif., who contributed 25 kills.
"Of course, we want to win," Oden said. "We need to start to win matches like this one. You want to go into the Olympics playing well. In this match, we didn't play well until the latter half of the games. The good part, though, is that we can turn it up a notch. We're going to have to do that and more to win an Olympic medal."
The Americans aren't yet firmly in the elite, but they are quickly closing the gap, showing they may be able to challenge the Cubans, Chinese and the Unified Team of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
"We've beaten all the teams ahead of us," Oden said. "Our goal is to get an Olympic medal. And it's possible that we could win a gold. But we have a lot of work to do."