Was the host accommodated?


THE Busan yachting centre indeed did present an idyllic setting. But the scene was not one of happy innocence with cries of foul play being more vehement than the joyous spirit exhibited by the hosts, the South Koreans, who picked up as many as six golds out of a possible 15 from the sailing competitions of the 14th Asian Games.

India's silver medallist Nitin Mongia (left) with the champion Hong Chul-Jin (middle) and bronze winner Veerasit Puangnak after the OK Dinghy Open class event. Some strange rulings deprived Mongia of the gold.-AFP

Initially, it was all but rumours of the hosts, the South Koreans, trying to take undue advantage in order to boost their medals tally. But as the week progressed, it was out into the open with officials of many countries including China, Japan, Thailand and India stopping only just short of portraying the hosts as cheats. Protest after protest was filed but fell on deaf ears as the Korean-dominated jury threw them out citing one flimsy reason or the other.

The frustration among the sailors, who were at the receiving end of this Korean hospitality, was there for all to see even as the Asian Yachting Federation miserably failed to intervene. The Indians too had one of their sure golds robbed when Nitin Mongia, the early leader in the OK Dinghy Open class, was disqualified in the eighth race of the 11-race series after the jury had earlier allowed a change of sail for the South Korean Hong Chul-Jin without sticking to regulations.

Little wonder then, that the Indian delegation was an angry lot, though the Busan event marked the biggest returns for the country in an international arena in recent times. Besides the silver won by Nitin, the Indians also picked up a bronze each through Ashim Mongia and R. Mahesh in the Enterprise class and Rajesh Chaudhary in the Laser Radial Open category. It was an event to remember for the Mongia siblings as they emulated their father, Surinder Mongia, a silver medal winner in the Enterprise class at the 1978 Games in Bangkok.

The event, for all the misgivings aired by many of the participating nations, however, was a perfect indicator of the rising Asian standard in the various categories, from the Olympic 470 and Mistral to the Junior Optimist. In fact, it was also a regatta which saw very few of the 11 scheduled races not being completed in the waters between the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan; an area renowned for both strong winds and currents.

The Enterprise Open bronze winners for India, Ashim Mongia and R. Mahesh.-V. SUDERSHAN

The Koreans proved to be a dominant force in the 420, 470 and Laser classes as did the Chinese who also finished with six golds, three each in the men's and women's sections. The other golds on offer were picked up by Japan, Indonesia and Hong Kong through Shibuki Iitsuka (Optimist boys), Sulaksana Gusti (Mistral Heavy men) and Lee Lai Shan (Mistral women) respectively.

In the 420 for men, Lee Dong-Woo and Park Jong-Woo sailing in their native waters had a poor start, finishing third in the first two races dominated by the Chinese combine of Tang Mingfeng and Ma Zhicheng. However, through the next three races it was the turn of the Koreans to dominate and this in more ways than one was to help them through to the gold with 14 points after two discards.

Only the last of the 11 races was abandoned due to shifting winds but by then the Koreans had a unassailable 12- point lead over Thailand's Vongtim Damrongsak and Musikul Sittisak who eventually took the silver. The Chinese pair was third with 28 points after disaster struck them in the third, fourth, seventh and eighth races. Just a point behind was placed the Indian pair of Farok Tarapore and Vikas Kapila, who failed to keep up their reputation as the reigning world champions in the event. But they were dogged by ill-luck almost all through.

Jung Sung-Ahn and Kim Dae-Young could count seven firsts in 10 races as they took the 470 class title quite easily at the expense of their Japanese rivals, Kazuto Seki and Kenjiro Todoroki. Singapore's Tan Wearn Haw and Chung Pei Ming followed the gold and silver medallists. The Korean dominance continued in the Laser class as well with Kim Ho-Kon emerging the winner with eight firsts and a tally of 8 points after discarding his third place and ninth place finishes in the last two races. Lim Leong Keat Kevin of Malaysia was the winner of the silver, streets ahead of Japan's Kunio Suzuki.

The fleet was split between light and heavy in the Mistral class and the golds herein were split by China and Indonesia, with Zhou Yuanguo taking the light title (after being engaged in a keen tussle for supremacy with Thailand's Arun Homraruen) and Sulaksana Gusti winning the heavy category from China's Mo Zehai with lots to spare.

Rajesh Chaudhary (right) brought a bronze for India in the Laser Radial Open class. The winner was Shen Sheng (middle) and the silver medallist Kim Jung Gon.-AFP

The non-Olympic raceboard fleet was also divided into light and heavy classes and here again it was Korea and China which ruled the roost. The light gold was won by Ok Duck-Pil (South Korea) and the heavy by Sun Maochun (China).

In the light category, the Korean's win was formalised on account of the victory he had in the last race over China's Gao Chuanwei, the early leader of the pack. Both, in the end, had a tally of 14 points but the gold went in favour of the Korean on the countback, the results of the last race proving crucial.

In the open fleet, the South Koreans won the Enterprise through Hyun Joo-Jun and Kuen Jung after recording five firsts in the nine-race sequence. The Koreans had a nine-point lead over Pakistan's Shehryar Arshad and Riaz Muhammed, who themselves were just about lucky to hold on to the second spot with a slender one-point lead over the Indian pair of Ashim Mongia and R. Mahesh. Though the gold was out of their grasp by then, the Indians did stand a chance to improve their bronze position to a silver before the last two races were cancelled.

Hong Chul-Jin was allowed a change of sail after he finished second to Nitin Mongia in the first two races of the Ok Dinghy Open. This along with the controversial eighth round disqualification of Mongia was to eventually affect the final outcome in this class, as the South Korean made the most of the favourable conditions to pip the Indian close to post. Veerasit Puangnak of Thailand was the winner of the bronze.

There was little doubt about Sheng Shen's class in the Laser Radial Open after the Chinese had accumulated six firsts in as many races. He was second in the seventh and first again in the ninth that his fourth place finish in the eighth and 10th races hardly had any bearing on the final result. Likewise, the silver medal also seemed reserved for South Korea's Kim Jung-Gon who besides finishing second in five of the first six races had topped the fleet in the seventh and eighth races.

The cancellation of the last race was in more ways than one beneficial to India's Rajesh Chaudhary who otherwise would have been pushed by Singapore's Tan Kheng Siong for the bronze. The Mumbai-based Army sailor's medal was confirmed with his first place finish in the 10th race, which gave him a total of 22 points compared to the 23 tallied by his nearest rival. The pleasant-faced Rajesh, who obviously could not control his joy, had been in the fourth spot all along before the win in what proved to be the last race turned so crucial.

The women's 420 class, which also saw only nine of the 11 races being completed, was won by China's Song Xiaqun and Wang Yan with a seven-point lead over Kim Suk-Kyong and Her Jung-Eun of South Korea (24). Liying Toh and Joan Shiqi Huang were third with 27 points whereas the Indian pair of Riddhi Jani and Aditi Jani could finish only last. Lu Chungfeng was to add another gold to the Chinese collection with her easy win in the Europe class. This category had only four sailors in the fray but the victory of the Chinese was a foregone conclusion even at the half-way stage. She was unbeaten in the first eight of the 10 races held. Japan's Maiko Sato and South Korea's Hong Jin-Young were placed second and third.

Lee Lai Shan also was never in trouble before she topped the Mistral class and gave Hong Kong its lone gold of the meet. The World No. 1 and 1996 Olympic gold-medallist was the winner of all but two of the first nine races and thus was not even required to finish the final two, enroute to a well-deserved gold. China's Yin Jian finished with the silver with four firsts and a tally of 18 points (seven behind the Hong Kong sailor), while Masako Imai of Japan took the bronze with 21 points. The rest of the field was never in sight.

The race for the top honours in the Optmist boys' category looked to be quite open during the first-half of the competition before Shibuki Iitsuka of Japan sealed it in his favour with a stunning five-win sequence in the last five races. The Japanese who had trailed China's Zhu Ye in the first two races had a tally of 14 points after two discards (a eighth in the fourth round and seventh in the sixth race) as he took the gold. Zhu Ye who had followed a disastrous course after his initial two wins finished second eventually with 23 points, five points clear of Singapore's Teo Wee Chin.

In the girls' fleet of the same category, it was Xu Lijia of China who claimed the gold with 14 points. The Chinese had four top place finishes and five second spots as she emerged the winner over Japan's Yoko Kiuchi. The Japanese herself was helped to the silver (ahead of Singapore's Sarah Tan Wei Lin) with the two firsts that she recorded in the last two races.