The spark of Asian sports was ignited at the National Stadium in New Delhi in 1951, with only 11 countries and 12 sports, featuring 489 athletes and spread over eight days. Since then, the Asian Games has grown in size and magnitude.
It is second only to the Olympics as a multi-sport event, even though only 45 nations compete, and has a large viewership glued to the action.
China has been the dominant force ever since it first hosted the Games in 1990 in Beijing, after Japan had shown its class, topping the table with 60 medals, including 24 gold, in the inaugural edition. Japan had been allowed then, to field a team after having been kept out of the London Olympics in 1948.
Korea was occupied with its civil war, and host India managed to win the second place with 51 medals, including 15 gold. That offered euphoric moments for Indian sports after Independence when the country was taking baby steps in the field of sports.
India provided a further fillip to the Games when it first introduced a mascot, the friendly baby elephant Appu, at the 1982 event in Delhi and the sports show coincided with colour televisions being introduced in the country.
Thanks to the diversity and the overwhelming number of disciplines, the Asian Games offers a plethora of incredible moments. It is hard to come up with a comprehensive list, and even more difficult to have an order of merit. It is a subjective choice, and quite a random one at that, as we take glimpses of stellar performances over a period of seven decades.
Athletics is the heart of such Games, and nothing can match the 100 metres. But Asia has been struggling to notch up a sub-10 second finish in the event.
In this scenario, Qatari sprinter Femi Ogunode, a Nigerian import, running an Asian record of 9.93 seconds in Incheon in 2014 was quite a celebrated moment. He shaved 0.06 seconds off from the Asian record then.
Ogunode holds the Asian record of 9.91 at the moment, jointly with China’s Su Bingtian.
For sheer dominance of the 100 metres, Talal Mansour of Qatar is unmatched. He won the gold in three successive Asian Games, from 1986 to 1994. He added the 200 metres gold as well in Hiroshima in 1994.
Equally incredible was the way Mohd. Suleiman won three successive gold medals in the 1500 metres, from 1990 to 1998, adding the 5000 metres gold in 1998 in Bangkok.
World and Olympic champion, Liu Xiang captivated the fans in successive Asian Games from 2002 to 2010 with gold medals in the 110-metre hurdles. Of course, the world remembers the moment when he limped away after the first hurdle in the London Olympics, leaving the Chinese fans in tears.
Japanese Shigenobu Murofushi kept winning the hammer throw gold in five successive Asian Games, from 1970 to 1986, before his son Koji Murofushi took over to win the gold in the 1998 and 2002 editions. Hard to match a family for such a string of achievements, and keeping a continental event as a family preserve! Koji went on to win the Olympic gold in Athens in 2004.
Payyoli Express P. T. Usha gave unforgettable moments for millions when she won four golds and a silver in the Seoul Asian Games in 1986, two years after she had agonisingly missed the 400m-hurdle Olympic bronze by one hundredth of a second in Los Angeles.
In the most gruelling marathon, Takeyuki Nakayama of Japan came up with a record time of 2 hours 8 minutes and 21 seconds in the 1986 Seoul Asian Games, a superlative effort for Asia at that time.
Nine-time World champion and three-time Olympic champion, Sun Yang of China, gave the first glimpses of his mastery of freestyle swimming, by setting an Asian record over 1500 metres in the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou. He clocked 14 minutes 35.43 seconds, the second fastest time in history then. Sun Yang went on to clock 14:31.02 in the London Olympics and holds the world record till date.
The Asian record holder in high jump at 2.43 metres, Mutaz Essa Barshim captured the imagination of athletics buffs by winning the gold in the Incheon Asian Games in 2014 with a jump of 2.38. He had won the Olympic bronze in London, and graduated to the silver in the Rio Olympics.
For cycling followers, it was special to see Seiichiro Nakagawa win the 200-metre time trial in 9.942 seconds in the last Asian Games in Korea.
In the same Games in Incheon, 17-year-old Kim Cheong-Yong, who had won silver in the Youth Olympics, received thunderous applause from the home fans when he won the 10-metre air pistol gold, beating among others, the reigning World and Olympic champion Jin-Jong Oh.
World record holder Kim Woo-Jin of Korea gave a thrilling moment for his adoring fans when he beat Tarundeep Rai in a closely contested archery final in the Guanzhou Asian Games in 2010.
The 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang is upon us, and it is time to set new standards and find new stars, who can add to the rich history, and provide new highs for the faithful sports enthusiasts of the continent.
Tens of thousands of athletes will provide innumerable magical moments for the fans depending on the sport with which they identify themselves. In the Asian Games, there is no dearth of variety.
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