It's China all the way

That China dominated the Games despite fielding a youthful contingent showed the depth of talent in that country. It also showed that the country was fully geared up to face the challenge in the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

"China will definitely defend its number one spot if there are no major upsets," said Xiao Tian, Deputy Chef-de-Mission of the Chinese delegation at the Asian Games, as competitions began in Doha.

That was perhaps the understatement of the year. There never was any question of China topping the medals tally; if at all there was a doubt it was about China's ability to overhaul its Busan booty. In the event, with a haul of 316 medals including 165 gold medals, China's tally was second best only to its effort at home in 1990 when it had claimed 183 gold medals in a total of 341.

The next best five countries put together could not reach China's gold count. Even if China had fielded its men's team or women's team alone it would have surpassed the gold collection of South Korea and Japan, the second and third teams in the medals standings.

That China could dominate the Games in such a fashion, despite fielding a youthful contingent, with nearly 64 per cent of the total number of competitors of 647 having no previous international experience, showed the depth of talent in that country. It also showed that China was fully geared up to face the challenge in the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

South Korea's gold collection of 58 fell far short of its Busan tally of 96, while Japan improved from 44 to 50 and had the second best total of 198 medals.

China competed in 37 of the 39 disciplines, missing out on kabaddi and karate, and won medals in all but six of them. Its supremacy was almost unchallenged in gymnastics, shooting, diving and women's weightlifting though it suffered a few setbacks in swimming and athletics.

World champion Yang Wei led the Chinese assault in gymnastics with four gold medals including the men's all-around title. China also won the men's and women's team titles and the women's all-around gold through He Ning in a total gymnastics gold count of 11, one more than what India gained across 31 disciplines.

The sharp shooters from China accounted for 27 of the 44 gold medals, the biggest chunk in their country's overall tally. "They are far ahead of the rest. We can only watch and admire and hopefully learn a few lessons," said India's Chief Coach Sunny Thomas about the overwhelming superiority of the Chinese shooters.

With a clutch of world champions around, China was always expected to amass gold medals in shooting and if there was some weakness in women's double trap and a few pistol events, the rest proved beyond any team's capacity to match.

In one of the bitterest battles in Asian Games swimming, China and Japan were involved in a dead-heat, 16 gold medals apiece. Yet, Japan had the upper hand as it collected 47 medals to China's 44.

Japan kept some of its star swimmers at home, including Ai Shibata, Sachiko Yamada and Tomomi Morita, all women capable of adding to their country's medals tally but being readied for the World Championships in March.

China also did not field one of its top female swimmers, double world champion and breast-stroke specialist Luo Xuejuan.

Still there were epic battles in the pool. In the end it was not a Chinese or Japanese who emerged with the maximum number of medals in swimming, but a Korean. Park Tae Hwan, the17-year-old Seoul resident, had seven medals in all, three individual gold medals included. And he bettered two Asian records, in the men's 200m freestyle and 1500m freestyle events.

By clocking 14:55.03 for the 1500 metres, Park became the first Asian to go under 15 minutes. He was only the fourth male swimmer in Asian Games history — and the first Korean — to win three individual gold medals in one Games.

"During the race before the 500m mark I had no advantage on the other swimmers and was a little nervous about that. But after the 800m I thought I could get the gold," said Park.

His impressive collection of gold medals helped Park gain the vote for the Samsung MVP Award as the most outstanding achiever of the Games. Among others, he beat Indian shooter Jaspal Rana also in a poll among the sports scribes covering the Games. Rana had won two individual gold medals and a team gold in pistol shooting.

The communication mix-up between the National Rifle Association of India and the Indian Olympic Association that resulted in Rana rushing to get what he thought was the MVP Award could have been avoided had officials acted in a more responsible manner. As one of the four finalists Rana was given a consolation trophy.

Among the multiple gold medallists, Chinese swimmer Pang Jiaying, who was also in contention for the Samsung award, took six medals in all, including four gold medals. Three of them came from the relays. She had a silver each in the women's 50m and 100m freestyle events.

Japanese world champion Kosuke Kitajima, on a comeback trail after an injury-ridden year, had three gold medals, the expected double in breast-stroke plus a part in a relay triumph.

A rare hat-trick for the second Games running featured Chinese Qi Hui's splendid performance in the pool. The Chinese won the 200m and 400m individual medley titles and also added the 200m breast-stroke gold to repeat her Busan feat.

Five world records were bettered and one equalled while 24 Asian records fell during the course of the Games, in archery, athletics, cycling, shooting, swimming and weightlifting.

The Games were not without the quota of doping violations with four weightlifters and an Iraqi bodybuilder being disqualified. The weightlifters were one each from Thailand and Myanmar and two from Uzbekistan, all of them testing positive, while the bodybuilder was caught with steroids in his possession.

In a tragic accident, 47-year-old Korean rider Kim Hyung-Chil fell off his horse and was crushed underneath while negotiating a hurdle on a rainy day in the equestrian championship and died bringing a pall of gloom over the Korean camp.

The embarrassing episode involving Indian middle distance runner S. Santhi, who failed a gender verification test, only highlighted the need to tackle such issues in a more matured and sensitive manner, keeping in mind the mental agony of the athlete and her family and the long-term impact such incidents can have on her.

A record number of 45 nations competed in the first Asian Games in the Gulf and despite initial hiccups about accommodation, Doha managed to conduct a successful event. Twenty-six countries managed to win gold medals while only seven finished without a medal: Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Maldives, Oman and Palestine.

Of the nine gold medals that Qatar won, the football title on the concluding day must have been the most satisfying. Come to think of it, only football and a few indoor games managed to draw decent crowds, while the empty stands in most venues including athletics must have been disheartening for the competitors.

A Special Correspondent