China's domination continues

A. VINOD

THE 14th Asian Games in Busan, which entered history on October 14, saw China's continued dominance. It also probably paved the way for South and North Korea's process of reunification, at a later date.

Kosuke Kitajima of Japan exults after setting the lone world record in the 200m breaststroke in swimming. Overall, it was not a great Asiad for Japan.-AP

A record 9,919 athletes and officials from 44 nations, affiliated to the Olympic Council of Asia were at Busan. The International Olympic Council president, Jacques Rogge, who attended the closing ceremony, described the 16-day event as ''historic and meaningful" exercise.

The predominant theme, as in the past, was China versus the rest. The Chinese indeed took some heavy knocks, losing out their dominance in events such as table tennis and basketball, but still had a overwhelming tally of 150 golds, 84 silvers and 74 bronzes and finished well ahead of the rest.

Xu Yanwei after winning her 50m freestyle event. She finished with five golds.-AFP

The tally of 150 golds, second best to their 1990 Beijing collection of 183, saw the Chinese holding sway over South Korea which finished second with 96 golds, 80 silvers and 84 bronzes. Yet, the South Koreans have every reason to be happy as they far exceeded their expectations (of 80 golds). They also finished ahead of Japan, yet again. The Japanese were hardly impressive as they finished with a tally of only 44 golds, 74 silvers and 72 bronzes.

India did make its presence felt, especially in athletics, though Sunita Rani's, incident (she tested positive for the banned substance, nandrolone) was a blot on the contingent. This was undoubtedly a blow. The athletic team was spearheaded by track queen K.M. Beenamol, sprinter Saraswati Saha, long jumper Anju Bobby George, discus thrower Neelam Jaswant Singh and shot putter Bahadur Singh Sagoo. The experienced pair of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi landed the tennis gold as expected.

Xu Peng, another star-performer for China in swimming, with the 200 backstroke gold.-AFP

The country has also reason to celebrate as Yasin Merchant-Habib Rafath triumphed over the rest of the field in the snooker doubles and young Shiv Kapur helped India regain the golf gold, after a gap of twenty years. And, as expected, the men's kabaddi team retained the gold - this was India's fourth consecutive title in the Games.

Apart from the doping fiasco involving the 22-year-old Sunita Rani, there were other disappointments for the Indian contingent. The men's hockey team, after a superb win over Pakistan in the semifinals, let the gold slip, losing to South Korea in the final. Pakistan disappointed its supporters back home, with a medal-less performance for the first time in 44 years.

The other failures, for India, were the poor form of its shooters, who could grab only two silvers, and the weightlifters who returned without any medal. The women's hockey team did not win a medal.

The continued Chinese supremacy was indeed the talking point of the Games. The sporting behemoth had an excellent outing in almost all disciplines except some unexpected debacle in table tennis, basketball and to a certain extent in badminton. The Chinese also cast aside their dubious reputation, for doping, with none of their athletes testing positive for a banned substance.

North Korean Ham Pong-Sil is jubilant after winning the women's marathon. She wanted the men's marathon gold to go to South Korea and Lee Bong-Ju (below) duly obliged.-AP

The most satisfying returns, on the Chinese viewpoint, came from their swimmers who helped their country once again to the top of with a haul of 20 golds. And that too at the expense of Japan, which had topped the medal tally for the discipline at Bangkok, four years ago, and had looked good enough to upset the Chinese applecart once again in Busan.

The Japanese, who finished second with 11 golds, had their moments too when a brighter moment through Kosuke Kitajima came up with a world record, a lone one in the the meet. The 22-year-old, overcoming a recent wrist injury, was in fine fettle as he smashed the 200m breast stroke record (also, the oldest standing benchmark in world swimming) of American Mike Barrowman, set during the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

-V. SUDERSHAN

It was a tremendous achievement by all accounts, especially as Kitajima never was challenged by any to go for a new world record time. The Japanese swimmer, who also was later voted for the Most Valuable Player of the Games, was almost four seconds clear of his nearest rival as he returned in 2:09.97 to clip 0.19s off Barrowman's ten-year-old record. ''I never knew that I was going that fast," said the mild-mannered swimmer with schoolboy looks.

But there were some outstanding performers from the Chinese side as well. Xu Yanwei, just 17, finished with five golds the most by any swimmer by taking two individual titles and assisting China to the gold in all the three relays and then Xu Peng, the schoolboy sensation who set the Sajik pool ablaze with an equally impressive three golds. The 15-year-old won the 200m butterfly, 200m backstroke and 400m individual medley titles also dented Japan's pride by upsetting its calculation in all the three races.

China won all the eight diving titles up for grabs. It also garnered the majority of the medals at stake in athletics, shooting and gymnastics. The Chinese also dominated in canoeing, cycling, fencing, judo, sailing and wushu. In all, they figured in all but two of the 38 disciplines - karatedo and kabaddi being the exceptions - had medals in as many as 35 events, a record by itself. The only sport from which it failed to take home even a single medal was bodybuilding, which interestingly was a new addition in the Games.

Veteran Koji Murofushi won the hammer event as expected. But Japan failed miserably in athletics.-AFP

Though the Chinese gold tally compared favourably to the 129 they won in Bangkok four years ago and the 125 they garnered in Hiroshima in 1994, their sports officials, however, were less impressed. And summing up their performance at a post-Games press conference, Li Furong, vice-president of the Chinese Olympic Committee said, ''A large number of our athletes won titles, but they were far off the highest international standards. Looking at the 2004 Olympics, the situation is extremely serious and there is no room for optimism."

Predicting that China would struggle to match its Sydney haul of 28 golds in Athens, he went on to add: ''The range of sports in which we are competitive either with the United States or Russia is rather narrow. It is going to be a tough grind through the next two years." Li Furong was also critical of the losses in events like table tennis, badminton and basketball and further stated that the 27 golds in non-Olympic events which the squad won were ''useless to us when we compete in the Olympics."

The Chinese official, however, had a word of praise for the large number of multi-medal winners in their first appearance on the international scene and to the team on the whole which came out unscathed in doping . ''We are happy on this account and for the number of world records that our weightlifters set during this Games. Otherwise, the trends are disturbing. For only in a third of the 150 golds we could achieve international standards here."

China was on song in shooting and gymnastics. Zhao Yinghui and her mates set a world record in the women's 10m air-rifle event.-AFP

Among the Chinese multi-medal winners, other than in swimming, was 16-year-old gymnast Zhang Nan, who finished with four golds including the women's all-around title. The men's all-around title also stayed with the Chinese as Yang Wei surprised his senior Liang Fuliang to win the gold. China also took the men's and women's team titles as it finished with a haul of 15 golds, three silvers and three bronzes. However, the competition as such was marred by the decision of the Asian Gymnastics Federation not to break ties in the individual finals, citing the Games as a vehicle for promoting friendship among the participant nations. This resulted in an unusual 17 gold-medallists from 10 finals and most of the gymnasts were clearly cut up with the decision of the ruling body.

In athletics, no World or Asian records were broken. And though the meet as such was marked by poor timings and distances. There were several interesting moments as the Saudi Arabian athletes came up with some sterling performances to beat back the monopoly of other nations. The Indians also took six golds. The Saudis had a tally of seven golds as they finished second to China.

Yet, it was a North Korean and South Korean who held attention, winning the women's and men's marathon golds respectively. The 42 km 195m race in the women's section was won by Ham Pong-Sil, who was inspired by a blood-written message on her wrist by friends, and later hoped that someone from South would win the men's event so as to help reunification. Lee Bong-Ju, the 2001 Boston marathon winner, duly obliged to give South Korea its fourth consecutive title in the event.

The 16-year-old Zhang Nan won four golds in gymnastics.-V. SUDERSHAN

The drought of records in athletics was made up by the deluge of new benchmarks in both shooting and weightlifting. In weightlifting alone, world records were set or tied in eight of the 15 divisions. Women lifters, in fact, failed to enter the record book in only one category. And among those who emerged as stars included Ri Song-Hui of North Korea who dashed China's aspirations of a clean sweep in the women's section. The North Korean won the 53 kg class gold with a new world record to boot, hoisting 102.5 kg in the snatch. Le Maosheng and Liu Xia of China also had their names entered the record book enroute to glory in the men's 62 kg and women's 63 kg categories.

China's Li Hongli and Kazakhstan's Sergey Filimonov lifted 173 kg each in snatch of the men's 77 kg division before Li Chunhong set three world records in the women's 69 kg class. A feat which was also achieved by her team-mate Sun Ruiping, who swept away the records in the women's 75 kg category, including a 9.5 kg jump in the clean and jerk. Tang Gonghong came up with a new world record in the clean and jerk of the women's over 75 kg category.

The jubilant South Korean team which defeated China in the basketball final.

In shooting, the Chinese accounted for all the three new world records. The team of Zhao Yinghui, Gao Jing and Du Li blew apart the women's 10m air-rifle mark while their counterparts in the men's section, Wang Yifu, Xu Dan and Tan Zongliang followed suit. The other world record to fall under the Chinese assault was the one in the 25m pistol event in the women's section. Chen Ying, Tao Luna and Li Duihong formed the group to shatter the record.

China, however, lost its stranglehold in table tennis. It was able to win only three of the seven golds at stake. Further embarrassment for the Chinese came in men's basketball as it lost the gold to South Korea at the end of an exciting match, 102-100. This despite the presence of its latest NBA recruit, Yao Ming, who top-scored for his country with 23 points though it in vain. It was the first ever loss for China which had been winning the gold in the event since 1982. But the country won the gold in the women's section, though the men's team loss was a big blow for it.

The Iranians are over the moon after beating the favourite, Japan, in the football final.

South Korea, apart from its successes in hockey and basketball, also won the men's badminton team title at the expense of fancied Indonesia. However, that win was marked by a raging controversy when Indonesia's Taufik Hidayat walked out of court incensed with the dubious line calls and stayed away for almost two hours before being persuaded to complete his match against Shon Seung-Mo. The Korean won that particular tie but the Indonesian had his revenge as he marched ahead to win the men's singles title later on.

But despite these cries of foul play, South Korea's achievements are still impressive as it went on to collect a record haul of 96 golds, three more than what it had gained at the 1986 Games held in Seoul. The host country in the process emerged second, behind China in the medals tally. The team won 12 golds in taekwondo, seven in soft-tennis, six each in fencing, shooting, sailing and wrestling, five in cycling, four each in badminton, judo and modern pentathlon (reintroduced as a medal event after being left out in Bangkok), and three each in athletics, body building, boxing, gymnastics and squash.

However, for all these accomplishments, the hosts were unable to land the one gold that they so dearly wanted. This was won by the defending champions Iran which took its fourth football title with a 2-1 win over Japan and made up somewhat for its failure to reach the World Cup final round earlier this year. The winner of gold in 1974, 1990 and 1998 had a tough ride to the top as it was almost overwhelmed by the South Koreans before it made it to the final via the tie-breaker. The Iranians soon after the medal ceremony dedicated their victory to veteran striker Ali Daei, who had rushed back to Teheran before the quarterfinals following the sudden death of his father.

Dilshod Mahmudov of Uzbekistan (right) in action against Chan Wai Seng of Macau in the boxing lightweight category. Dilshod excelled.

The loss of a possible gold in football was one of many setbacks that Japan suffered during the Games. In fact, it was a disappointing run for the one-time super power which had reigned supreme in every Games held between 1951 and 1982. Japan had come to Busan with a goal of taking home 65 golds but eventually won only 44, finishing third behind China and South Korea.

Favourite Koji Murofushi duly won the men's hammer throw and Shingo Suetsugu had little trouble in taking the 200m but these were the golds that Japan took home from athletics. It was meagre when compared to the 12 it had won in Bangkok. In women's softball the Japanese were awarded the gold when the final day of the competition was rained off.

The brighter side of the Japanese campaign was of course the world record by Kitajima and the women's individual gold in golf won by teenager Ai Miyazato. Japan's judo star Kosei Inoue topped in men's event and Kenichi Imai took the 60 kg category of karatedo gold. Besides the victory of Inoue, Japan also had six other title triumphs in judo, its next best achievement after the 11 golds in swimming with all the four from synchro swimming, made possible by the routines of Sydney silver-medallists, Miya Tachibana and Miho Takeda.

Assessing the Japanese performance on the whole, its chef-de-mission Teruji Kogake said the setbacks that his team suffered in athletics and swimming was embarrassing. Kogake also said the level of competition in Asian sports was getting keener with each passing day, ''With the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China's athletes are very strong and South Korea was also very tough here as the host nation."

Ri Song-Hui of North Korea halted the Chinese monopoly in women's weightlifting.

In tennis, Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand took the men's singles title but the other top-seed Tamarine Tanasugarn was not that lucky as she was beaten by Uzbekistan's Iroda Tulyaganova. Thailand, which finished fourth last time, was in the sixth position, behind Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, with a tally of 14 golds, 19 silvers and 10 bronzes.

The Kazakhs finished fourth with 20 golds, 26 silvers and 30 bronzes and made their presence felt in a range of disciplines, winning medals from 16 events. Apart from the title triumph of Tulyaganova, Uzbekistan collected a fair share of its 15 golds from boxing and wrestling. In boxing, the Uzbeks had a field day winning five weight categories through Dilshod Mahmudov (60 kg), Utkirbek Haydarov (75 kg), Ikrom Berdiev (81 kg), Sergey Mihayilov (91 kg) and Rustam Saidov (over 91 kg). That apart, the other notable performers for Uzbekistan at Busan was the veteran gymnast Oksana Chusovitina, who at 27, proved that she is still a force to reckon with in the continental-level. Chusovitina had a personal collection of four medals, two of which were gold.

Palestine captured its first ever Asian Games medal in Busan, a bronze through boxer Ukeshek, and Afghanistan too figured in the final medal's tally, thanks to Roia Zamani, who took the women's middleweight bronze in taekwondo. In fact, but for Bhutan, Cambodia, Maldives, Oman and the newly-independent and debutant East Timor, every other country finished with at least a medal each.

Taufik Hidayat won the men's badminton title. The Indonesian star walked out of the court incensed with dubious line calls and stayed away for almost two hours before being persuaded to complete his match during the team event, which South Korea ultimately won. The refereeing was partisan in the Games.

The Games, for all the excitement it generated, however fell flat in terms of spectator support. Yet, the BAGOC had no qualms in claiming the Busan Games as the biggest ever in Asian Games history, judging it as one of the most exemplary Games and one of the most successful events in recent times. But for the sordid episode involving Sunita Rani and one Lebanese bodybuilder, Yousseff el-Zetn - who failed to come for the mandatory drug test after winning a bronze in the 96 kg weight category - the Games were clean of doping menace.

The 16-day-event was also significant with the presence of North Korea, for the first time in a sporting contest to be held in the South. This obviously signalled the growing good relationship between the two countries. It was also for the first time ever that the North Korean flag was raised and its national anthem played in the South. The two countries marched together, during the opening and closing ceremonies, under a single flag. North Korea, for the record, was placed ninth overall after winning 33 medals, nine of them gold.

On the negative side, referring was partisan, volunteers were poorly trained and there was lack of translators. Further, the distances between one venue to another was far, and the commuting was a big problem. But overall, Busan Games were a success. The Asian Games will now move to Doha, the capital city of Qatar, in 2006. It will acquire a new dimension as it will be first to be held in a Arab country. And already there are strong signals that cricket and chess will be included int the Games for the first time. Also, Doha will have competitions in only 33 disciplines when compared to the 38 we had in Busan. While this indeed is a step in the right direction to check the gigantic proportions in which the Games have grown since its inception in 1951 at New Delhi. The Doha organisers can find it hard to emulate the resourcefulness and the enterprise of the organisers of Busan Games, who spared no effort in making it an unforgettable event. Hats off to them!