South Korean men and Chinese women top

A. VINOD

THE clash of dates with the World men's volleyball championship did affect some teams during the 14th Asian Games. In the event, South Korea triumphed much to the joy of its home supporters even as the Bangkok Games winner China failed to finish within the top three.

Yeo Oh-Hyun of South Korea celebrates his team's gold with a lap of honour, followed by the Iranians, who won the silver.-AP

The South Koreans, considering the importance of the Games, being held at home, withdrew from the World Championship while China and Japan fielded their second string, in the Busan Games, mostly made up of former National players and newcomers.

Drawn in Group A in the preliminary league, the host and the eventual winner, South Korea was pooled with Iran, India, Macau and Qatar and had little difficulty in progressing to the semifinals. The Koreans won all the matches in straight sets, while the toughest match of the Group was fought between Iran and India.

The Indian team, which was cleared at the last-minute on no-cost basis to the Government, recovered well after the loss against the Koreans. It went down fighting against the taller and stronger Iranians in five sets. However, with wins over Macau and Qatar, the Indians were able to finish a creditable fifth. The team recorded victories over Pakistan and Chinese Taipei in the classification round matches.

Behnam Mahmoudi (left) of Iran smashes the ball, beating Zhang Xiang (No. 12) of China during the semi-final match. The Iranians won this close match in five games.-AFP

China and Japan made the semi-finals from Group B at the expense of Chinese Taipei and Pakistan. The Chinese were on top of the group with a all-win record and the Japanese finished second after a 1-3 loss against the reigning champion side, China.

However, China's further progress was halted by the Iranians after a keen tussle in five sets. The Iranians won 25-16, 19-25, 25-21, 22-25, 15-11 to set up a final clash with South Korea, which had overcome Japan 27-25, 25-21, 27-25, in the other semifinal.

But all the good show of Iran in the earlier matches ended against the host team in the final. Iran, was playing its second final in 44 years. And once again it was spiker Shin Jin-Sik who proved to be the nemesis of the Iranians, smashing well at the net time and again. The Koreans outwitted their rivals completely.

The China 'A' team of Tian Jia (top, right) and Wang Fei (top, centre), with the gold won in beach volleyball. China 'A' beat China 'B' in the final.-AFP

Japan took the bronze at the expense of China, which like in the 1994 final in Hiroshima, squandered a two-set lead. The Chinese won 29-27, 25-23, 24-26, 25-20 against the Japanese in their earlier meeting and looked good as they took the first two sets with an identical score of 25-22.

But with Japan's coach, Seiki Oko, bringing in two young players, Kota Yamamura and Yu Koshikawa, the team was back into reckoning, taking the next three sets 25-22, 25-16, 15-9 to leave China behind. The timely substitution by the Japanese coach had done the trick, with Yamamura and Koshikawa serving well their team's cause at the net.

China, however, retained its hold over the women's title with the loss of just one set in six matches. That loss came in the final against South Korea before the Chinese won at 25-12, 25-16, 22-25, 25-19 in just an hour and 30 minutes.

China's Kun Feng (left) blocks a smash by Meong Hee Lee of South Korea during the women's volleyball final. China won the gold.-AFP

The all-conquering Chinese had simply blazed their way, through the preliminary round-robin league, consists of Korea, Japan, Chinese Taipei, Thailand and Kazakhstan, other than China. South Korea was beaten by the champion side 19-25, 15-25, 15-25 in less than an hour in the league match.

In the final, China, aided by Zhang Yuehong and Zhao Ruirui, got off to a flying start. Some unforced errors, in the third set, forced the Chinese to lose that set to the Koreans, who were egged on by a capacity crowd.

However, the loss of the third set proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Chinese as Yehong and Ruirui were able to find their touch once again to help their side win the gold. The Koreans despite a valiant attempt by Choi Kwang-Hee and Kim Min-Jung were nowhere in the picture. Japan took the bronze, finishing third in the round-robin league with wins over Thailand, Chinese Taipei and Kazakhstan.

The Japanese team which won the men's beach volleyball event is flanked by the silver medallist, Indonesia (left), and China, the bronze winner.-AFP

In beach volleyball, Japan took the men's gold through Katsuhoir Shiratori and Satoshi Watanabe. It defeated Indonesian combine of Agus Salim and Koko Darkuncoro 29-27, 29-17 in the final. China's Lie Hua and Zhao Chicheng won the bronze with a 21-14, 22-20 win over the second Indonesian team of Andy Ardiyansyah and Supriadi. The Chinese pair were the gold-medallists in Bangkok, four years ago.

In the women's section, it was Tian Jia and Wang Fei who stole the thunder with a 21-15, 21-13 win over Lu Wang and You Wenhui in an all-China final. The bronze went to Japanese Tokuno Ryoko and Kusuhara Chiacki who defeated Thailand's Kulna Kamoltip and Sanook Jaurnee 21-18, 24-22 in the third-place playoff.