Kitajima all set for three-in-a-row

The 2010 Asian Games is expected to produce some top class performances. Here is the list of stars who will hog the limelight in Guangzhou. By A. Vinod.

Guangzhou is ready to host the biggest ever Asian Games, with nearly 11,700 athletes representing 45 nations all set to compete in 42 disciplines and stake their claim for the 476 gold medals up for grabs.

And indeed, the action at the 16-day event, starting November 12, is certain to be riveting what with a large number of World and Olympic champions in the fray.

Yet, among all those eventual winners there could be a select band of athletes who will enthral the show. Here is the list of sportspersons who are expected to excel in China.

Youssef Saad Kamel (Bahrain – Athletics)

Gregory Konchellah, son of two-time world champion Billy Konchellah, came over to Bahrain from Kenya in 2003, in search of financial security. He became Youssef Saad Kamel and won for his adopted country the 1500 m World championships title last year. He won a bronze as well in the 800 metres.

Not many Kenyans settle down comfortably in their adopted countries and Kamel has had his share of problems with Bahrain last year when he wanted to go back to Kenya and represent his motherland. Kenyans back home still root for him, no matter which vest he wears.

Kamel looks overwhelming favourite in the 1500 metres at the Guangzhou Games. He is the season leader among Asians, with his 3:33.06 in Reiti, Italy, in August last, and can be expected to be among the medal contenders in the 800 metres also, where he is the defending champion.

He has personal bests of 3:31.56 and 1:42.79 for the 1500 metres and the 800 metres.

Kosuke Kitajima (Japan – Aquatics)

A true champion in more ways than one, this 28-year-old swimmer is on the threshold of history in Guangzhou. Winner of the 100m and 200m breaststroke titles in the past two Games — Busan (2002) and Doha (2006) — this Tokyo-born swimmer was a runaway winner of the Most Valuable Player award in 2002 as he became the first Asian to hold a men's world record (100m) since compatriot Nobutaka Taguchi at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

Having taken a year's sabbatical in 2009, Kitajima, also the winner of both his pet events in the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Olympics, is back in perfect shape as his winning streak at the recent Pan Pacific championships would indicate.

Clearly, he should set the pool ablaze at the Guangdong Olympic Aquatics Centre in his attempt to become the first ever athlete to win two events in three successive Games.

Watch out for this great champion who given some competition could also produce the first 59s-sub performance in the 100m.

Chen Yibing (China – Gymnastics)

A standout performer in the world gymnastics scene for quite a few years now, the 25-year-old from Tianjin is a key figure of the dominant Chinese team. His awe-inspiring prowess in the rings has come to be described as “perfect” and “textbook-worthy”.

In Doha, four years ago, and in Beijing in 2008, he did play a prominent role in his home-nation's superb show in the team event, guiding it with a precision-marked and a highly difficult routine in his pet apparatus.

Besides, he was also the winner of the gold medal in rings at both these events. At the world level, he has won three titles in four World championships, the more recent one being at the 42nd edition of the event in Rotterdam.

The unstoppable machine, that he is, Yibing as captain of the Chinese team is likely to be in the thick of action in Guangzhou once again, defying gravity and adding another glorious chapter to his illustrious career.

Lin Dan (China – Badminton)

Nicknamed as “Super Dan” by his fans, the 27-year-old is considered the greatest player of his generation, if not of all time. In fact, this highly demonstrative and temperamental player has such high credentials including the feat of three consecutive World championship and four All England championship titles to his credit as well as the Olympic crown of 2008.

Indian fans will remeber his triumph in the Asian badminton championship in New Delhi earlier this year at the expense of compatriot Wang Zhenming in the final.

With the Malaysian World No. 1 Lee Chong Wei likely to miss the Guangzhou Games, Lin is expected to be at his best to take China past all its hurdles in the team event before grabbing the spotlight in the Open events. Though the current year is certainly not the best for this top flight performer, but in all probability he will set the record straight in Guangzhou.

Guo Yan (China – Table tennis)

A consistent performer in the ITTF pro tour since 2001, this 28-year-old who wields the racket with a shake-hand grip on her right hand is currently the world No. 1. Known for her calm composure and deep-rooted resoluteness, Yan is the oldest player to hold the honour of being World No. 1 for the first time since the ITTF adopted the computer integrated ranking system nine years ago.

She is the seventh Chinese player to reach the No.1 spot in the world rankings. Her superb performance at the Volkswagen women's World Cup in Kuala Lumpur in September propelled her from World No. 3 to World No. 1.

Yun Ok-Hee (South Korea – Archery)

Firing arrows like pre-set remote-controlled missiles is no joke. Yet, Yun has always been consistently good at that over the last five years as like many of her predecessors who had shaped South Korea's domination in this sport of precision over three decades. Little wonder then, this 25-year-old is acknowledged as one of the best archers in the world and is currently ranked No.2 in her section.

The holder of the 12-arrow World record, Yun, is a lover of music and literature. These two hobbies help Yun keep her admirably high level of concentration in tact even under difficult circumstances. Being an inspiring member of the South Korean team, it will be hard to take the eye off Yun in Guangzhou, as she goes for a double gold medal in both the team and individual events in a bid to regain the World No.1 spot that she lost in October.

(With inputs from K. P. Mohan & S. Sabanayakan)