China and the quality of its youth

The last time China hosted the Asian Games, in 1990, it won 183 gold medals (total medals: 342). However, the nation's target of 200 gold medals this time looked unrealistic, particularly with China focused on delivering a world-class Asiad. But then, the sporting superpower almost pulled it off. By Kamesh Srinivasan.

After staging a brilliant Olympics in Beijing in 2008, where it topped the gold collection with 51, ahead of the United States, Russia, Britain, Germany and Australia, China put up yet another magnificent show in Guangzhou, the city of flowers. It also completely dominated the Asian Games by winning a record 199 gold medals (total medals: 416).

The last time China hosted the Asian Games, in 1990, it won 183 gold medals (total medals: 342). However, the nation's target of 200 gold medals this time looked unrealistic, particularly with China focused on delivering a world-class Asian Games. But then, the sporting superpower almost pulled it off. Myanmar won the women's doubles final in sepaktakraw on the last day to deny China a perfect finish.

From literally conducting the Opening Ceremony on water on the Pearl River and in space, with men dancing on the eight giant sail-shaped television screens, at the Haixinsha Island, to having the Asian Games Town cater to 10,156 athletes, 4,983 team officials, thousands of technical officials and the media to setting up 53 competition venues and 17 training facilities — all conforming to international standards — at an estimated cost of about one billion dollars, China used the platform to project its fabulous growth and progress.

China had the entire province ready, as it spread out the venues across hundreds of kilometres, so that the entire region could benefit from the legacy of the Games. It was great vision, and tremendous execution.

China's domination was a foregone conclusion, but it was upset that its strength in shooting had waned. The host ended up with 21 gold medals as against 27 in the last edition!

Imagine a nation that has won 1191 gold medals in 10 editions of the Asian Games after making its debut in Teheran in 1974 and topping the table every time since 1982, being worried about its grip over the Olympic disciplines slipping! And this, despite winning 125 of the 199 gold medals in those disciplines!

“The situation doesn't seem so optimistic for our preparations for the 2012 London Olympics,” said Cai Jiadong, the secretary-general of the Chinese contingent, much to the consternation of everyone.

He, however, conceded that China's domination revealed the competitiveness of its people, its economic strength, the sports management and availability of adequate facilities.

“China's performance will be the model for other countries,” he said.

It is a model that is almost impossible to replicate.

Indeed, it was Korea's gain as it pocketed 13 gold medals, its best ever in shooting in the Games, while coming a distant second with a tally of 76 gold medals.

China won 24 gold medals in swimming, the maximum in a sport by a nation, in the Games. It also had a rich haul of gold medals from gymnastics (13), athletics (13), diving (10), rowing (10), dance sport (10), canoeing/kayaking (9), wushu (9), weightlifting (8), cycling (7), table tennis (7), badminton (5) and boxing (5).

Though there was no dearth of gold medals, heroes and heroines, World and Olympic champion Lin Dan winning the gold in badminton, and Liu Xiang winning his third Asian Games gold in the 110m hurdles after limping out of the Beijing Olympics, were moments of national celebration.

When you have China competing, the race invariably is for the second place. Last time, Korea had pipped Japan, the erstwhile sports superpower of the continent, by 58 to 50 gold medals. This time Japan could manage only 48 gold, though it came close to matching Korea in the overall medals tally, with 216 medals to the latter's 232.

Korea's gold medals came mainly from bowling (8), fencing (7), judo (6), taekwondo (4), archery (4), athletics (4), swimming (4), cycling (4), golf (4) apart from shooting (13).

The bulk of Japan's gold came from swimming (9), judo (7), athletics (4), wrestling (3), sailing (3) and canoeing/kayaking (3).

“Korea transformed a military centre into training centre, and they see the Asian Games as an important event. Now we are establishing a national training centre with extensive facilities to let teams train together, as well as let the athletes have firm convictions,” said the chef de mission of the Japanese contingent, Noriyuki Ichihara. He conceded that Japan needed to train harder to get better results.

Quite interestingly, Park Byung Taek of Korea won the centre-fire pistol gold, 20 years after his first gold in the Asian Games.

Korea also had the distinction of having the best male athlete in the Games, as swimmer Park Tae Hwan won three gold, two silver and two bronze for a total of seven medals.

China had Tang Yi, the female swimmer who won four gold and two silver medals, to rank as the best individual performer.

There was something for others too as 36 of the 45 nations won medals and 28 of them won at least a gold each. Iran showed its class in wrestling (7), taekwondo (3) and wushu (3); Kazakhstan in athletics (4), weightlifting (3), boxing (2), wrestling (2) and gymnastics (2). Chinese Taipei continued to exercise control in tennis, winning three gold medals despite Yen Hsun Lu not being able to pull his weight in owing to an injury.

There were three world records, and 103 Asian records. It was indeed an unforgettable Games.

As the president of the Olympic Council of Asia, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, so appropriately put it, the 60,000 volunteers made the Games vibrant with their sense of national pride, enthusiasm, dedication and that friendly smile.

“From the bottom of my heart, I salute you and thank you on behalf of the Olympic family in Asia,” said the OCA president. It will indeed be a gigantic challenge for Incheon in 2014 as Korea attempts to take the Asian Games to the next level.

To be honest, China has marched ahead of the times, making others believe as if they were light years behind.

The secret of China's success is the quality of its youth.