Her hands ached terribly as she swam the 50m freestyle final but Rikako Ikee did not want to give up. The 18-year-old Japanese swimmer lit up the pool as no woman has done before at the Asian Games. At Jakarta, she won six golds and two silvers and was adjudged as the Olympic Council of Asia’s Most Valuable Player of the 18th Asiad.
“Of all the races, I was more nervous about this one,” she said after the 50m freestyle gold made her the best athlete in Jakarta. “I really did not think I would win this one but the big thing is, I did not give up.”
Incidentally, she won all her events with Games records.
“I was actually in shock when I heard I was being considered. I am so happy to have this beautiful award,” said Ikee.
She is now the most successful swimmer at a single Asiad and the most successful female athlete in a single edition of the Games in any sport. Only North Korean male shooter So Gin-man, who won seven golds at the 1982 New Delhi Asiad, has more golds in a single edition.
Sun Yang may be a bigger name in swimming. For the 25-year-old is a superstar at home being a three-time Olympic champion and also because of the controversies he frequently appeared to get into.
In Jakarta, the flamboyant swimmer swept all the four middle- and long-distance freestyle events he figured in, the 200, 400, 800 and 1,500m, despite suffering from a bad back during a couple of events.
Not far away from the pool is the GBK badminton hall in Jakarta. And this was probably the noisiest venue at the Asiad. Indonesians love badminton and they ensured that loud noise and support would help the home stars overcome their opponents. The noise virtually sent stadium into a tremor, one had to see it to believe it.
Anthony Ginting created much of the fireworks early, plucking out Japan’s world champion Kento Momota and China’s Olympic gold medallist Chen Long, but it was the host’s 20-year-old Jonatan Christie who walked away with the men’s singles gold. Jonatan had packed off China’s top-seeded Shi Yuki in the first round and then saw all his dreams come true when he beat Taipei’s Chou Tien Chen 2-1 in the final.
That made Jonatan the first Indonesian to win the Asiad men’s singles title after former Olympic champion Taufik Hidayat in 2006.
Most of the big stars felt that the crowd and their loud chants upset their rhythm. The crowd knew that and just roared louder.
Away from all the din, there was one quiet lady who made history. And this was squash great Nicol David's last Asiad. The Malaysian was just 14 when she won her maiden Asiad singles gold in Bangkok in 1998. She now has five women’s singles golds and her fifth came on her 35th birthday in Jakarta when she defeated her teammate S. Sivasangari in a five-game thriller for the title. Squash, for sure, will never be the same again.
From court to track, Iranian Ehsan Hadadi, who has had some very interesting battles with Indian Vikas Gowda, won his fourth straight Asiad men’s discus throw title in Jakarta. Hadadi, the silver medallist at the 2012 London Olympics, will be 37 by the time of the next Olympics, in 2020 in Tokyo. But that has not stopped him from dreaming big.
“Now, everything is about the future. I have a silver at the Olympics, now I want a gold,” he said.
Coming back to the water, the Koreans showed that unity was strength.
The Unified Korea 500m women’s dragon boating team won the gold and it was the first time North and South Korea combined to triumph at a multisport competition.