Banging drums and singing the national anthem, Chinese fans gave a hero's welcome yesterday to their women's soccer team, which returned home from the World Cup.

"We didn't lose because of spirit or strength. We lost because of luck," defender Zhao Lihong said as the team walked through Beijing airport to the applause of airport employees.

Top Chinese sports officials greeted the team. In the receiving line was the top U.S. diplomat in China, William McCahill, who gave captain Sun Wen a bouquet of flowers.

"The entire Chinese people are extremely happy!" Wu Shaozu, director of the state sports commission, said at a brief news conference for the team. The arrival was featured prominently on the national evening television news.

The United States won the title Saturday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., beating the Chinese, 5-4, on penalty kicks after a scoreless regulation and two overtime periods.

"Only when you are very powerful can you win respect," she said. "Through our good performance we won the respect and love of American soccer fans." . . .

The U.S. Olympic Committee, under its Operation Gold program, is awarding the U.S. women's national team members $120,000, or $6,000 each, for winning the Women's World Cup. The players also received $750,000 ($37,500 each) from the event's organizing committee and $250,000 ($12,500 each) from the U.S. Soccer Federation.

Tennis

Graf's Future

Steffi Graf probably will retire from the women's tennis tour at the end of the year, ending a magnificent career highlighted by seven Wimbledon championships and 22 Grand Slam titles.

Graf, 30, will play in a couple of events next year and go to places where she has never competed, but her days of playing the Grand Slam circuit are probably over, she said. Graf didn't say specifically why she was leaving the tour, but noted that over the past three years injuries have had her on the verge of retiring several times. Traveling, the demands on her time and not having as much fun playing in tournaments also were factors, she said. Graf, who has five more events on her schedule this year, including the U.S. Open, refused to say which would be her last tournament. . . .

Unless he has a dramatic change of heart, Pete Sampras will not be playing singles for the United States in this weekend's Davis Cup quarterfinals in Brookline, Mass. Sampras and his Davis Cup teammates were together for the first time yesterday in preparation for the quarterfinal with Australia.

Despite a hot streak and entreaties from teammate Todd Martin, Sampras insisted that as a late arrival on a team that has earned a quarterfinal berth without him, his place is the doubles court with partner Alex O'Brien.

Motor Sports

Schumacher's Bad Break

His leg broken in two places and his bid for this season's Formula One championship erased after a high-speed crash in the British Grand Prix, Michael Schumacher said he expects to return to racing this season.

The 30-year-old German was lucky to survive a head-on crash into a wall about 30 seconds into Sunday's race. Surgeons at nearby Northampton General Hospital had to insert a steel plate into his right leg to repair his broken tibia and fibula.

"I'm lucky to be alive," Schumacher said. "I know I'm going to be out of action for two to three months and I realize that I have absolutely no chance of the championship this year."

Colleges

Sex Discrimination Case

A federal appeals court reinstated the sex discrimination lawsuit of a female place kicker who was cut from Duke's football team in 1996. The three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Heather Sue Mercer is entitled to a trial on her claim that Duke violated Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, which prohibits gender discrimination in educational programs receiving federal funds. . . .

After a close call in the semifinals, the U.S. men wrapped up their sixth straight World University Games gold medal and 40th straight win--both records--by routing Yugoslavia, 79-65, in the final. Cincinnati's Kenyon Martin led the U.S. with 21 points.

The U.S. women's basketball team was upset by host Spain, 57-48, in the finals. Spain, which won its first gold medal at the event, beat an American squad that was without two starters. The U.S. team did not score for the first three minutes of the game.

High Schools

Virginia All-Stars

Kara Lawson of West Springfield closed her high school career with 17 points to help lead the West team to a 95-68 victory over the East in the Virginia High School Coaches Association all-star basketball game in Hampton.

Lawson, who will attend the University of Tennessee, was chosen the West team's most valuable player.

Cycling

Armstrong Online

Interactivity on the Internet might not be the focus of cyclist Lance Armstrong at this point. But Armstrong does take communicating with his fans seriously through his site, Lance Armstrong Online! (www.lancearmstrong.com).

The site features behind-the-scenes journals written by Armstrong and his wife, Kristin. Fans can talk about Armstrong through a discussion forum and chat section.

CAPTION: China's national team captain, Sun Wen, left, signs autograph for fan during welcoming ceremony at Beijing airport.