Chinks in the Chinese armour?

KOSUKE HAGINO... four golds from the pool as also the award as the Most Valuable Player.-AP

A total of 14 world records and more than 40 Asian marks were set during the Games, which had around 9,500 athletes from 45 countries. “These numbers show the development of sports in the region,” said Sheik Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, president of the Olympic Council of Asia. “Everybody was satisfied with the success and the level of the Games.” It’s clear Asian sport has come a long way. By Stan Rayan.

There is talk all around that China has lost a bit of its supremacy in the Asian Games after bagging nearly 50 golds fewer in Incheon than at the last edition at home in Guangzhou.

With solid home support, the host often gains around 10 to 15 medals which pushes it a rung or two in the medals table and that way, the fall in China’s gold count was not totally unexpected.

China, which topped the medals table at Guangzhou with 199 golds, was in the front once again at Incheon with 150 golds, but it was also its worst show since the 2002 Games in the Korean city of Busan. Miles behind was host South Korea, which finished second with 79 golds, and Japan with 47.

But the fact is, three disciplines — dance sport, cue sports and chess — which offered China nearly 20 golds at the 2010 Games were missing from the menu at Incheon.

However, here China gained in athletics and shooting, two of the three disciplines which bring it the bulk of the yellows at the Asian Games, when compared with the Guangzhou Games.

The table topper took nearly a hundred golds from just five sports — shooting, aquatics, athletics, wushu and rowing — where it appears to have maintained its hold.

Apart from its perfectly planned programmes and top quality training, China frequently hosts major international championships in many disciplines. It is a regular in the IAAF Diamond League circuit, which is held in Shanghai, and next year it will be hosting the World Athletics Championships in Beijing. It also regularly hosts big events in other disciplines, which means almost all its top athletes are prepared well every year. Its athletes were also sent to Europe, for training and competition, in the run-up to Incheon so the better returns in athletics did not come as a surprise at all.

What, however, came as a surprise was the positive dope test of Chinese hammer thrower Zhang Wenxiu, a multiple World Championship medallist, who was stripped of the gold at Incheon after the incident.

Zhang, who won the Incheon gold with a Games record and a personal best, was the first top Chinese athlete to flunk a dope test at a major games after the huge doping scandal which hit Chinese athletics in 1994. It also offered a small indication that probably things are not in perfect order with the Chinese.

China fielded a younger team in many disciplines this time, with an eye on the 2016 Rio Olympics. And the huge support staff, which included mind trainers, helped these young athletes stay strong and focussed in high-pressure situations.

While China topped the table, North Korea, which nearly boycotted the Games, was involved in some of the most dramatic action.

The North Korean athletes appeared to face severe restrictions at Incheon. There is a lot of tension between the North and the South in the last few years and the North Korean athletes, and even their media, always travelled as a group and did not mingle much with the others.

But North Korea did all the talking on the field. Its weightlifters shattered five world records, its women’s footballers beat Japan in the trophy clash, while its men lost a close final to South Korea through a goal scored in the last 20 seconds. The 150 North Koreans took home 11 golds.

Japan’s 20-year-old Kosuke Hagino, who hopes to emulate Michael Phelps one day, walked away with the Samsung’s Most Valuable Player of the Games award along with the four swimming golds he won in Incheon.

And in the 200 free, he beat big stars like China’s Sun Yang and South Korea’s Park Tae-hwan.

However, China’s world and Olympic champion Sun Yang won the ‘Race of the Games’ beating Hagino and home favourite Park Tae-Hwan in the 400m freestyle final.

A total of 14 world records and more than 40 Asian marks were set during the Games, which had around 9,500 athletes from 45 countries.

“These numbers show the development of sports in the region,” said Sheik Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, president of the Olympic Council of Asia. “Everybody was satisfied with the success and the level of the Games.”

It’s clear Asian sport has come a long way.