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Sunday, 12 October 2014





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17th Asian Games in Incheon - Review:

Alarm bells ring for the future

China underlines its sporting supremacy once more :

Sri Lanka’s pathetic performance at the recently concluded 17th Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea sent alarm bells for the future of Sri Lanka sport.

If not for the two medals won by cricketers - the gold in men’s T20 and the bronze in women’s T20 tournaments, the 111-member Sri Lanka contingent, which competed in eight disciplines, would have returned home empty handed.

Sri Lanka captain Lahiru Thirimanne kisses his Asian Games gold medal

True that Sri Lanka won an Asian Games gold medal after 12 years since sprinters Susanthika Jayasinghe (women’s 100m) and Damayanthi Darsha (w0men’s 400m) won their respective events in Busan 2002 Games, when Sri Lanka’s men’s team won the gold medal in T20 cricket tournament.

But that is nothing to craw about, considering the weak opponents they faced during the tournament. They were lucky to make it to the final against minnows Afghanistan, which is virtually an unheard force in world cricket, on a toss of a coin after their semi-final against the defending champions Bangladesh was washed off by rain.

The bronze medal won by the women’s team in T20 cricket too was not a surprise at all, considering the fact that they were beaten by Bangladesh in the semi-finals. Hence, the two medals won in cricket could not pay for the sins of remaining competitors who competed in seven other sports.

Athletes, biggest disappointment

The biggest disappointment was in athletics. Sprinter Chandrika Subhashini, Nadeeka Lakmali and high jumper Manjula Kumara Wijesekera of whom much was expected, painted a poor picture.

Though Manjula Kumara has been offered scholarships to sharpen his skills in the big league, he has failed to better his 2.27m mark set at the 2004 national championships that gave him the passage to the Athens Olympics. Exactly ten years later, he could not even better 2.15m in Inchon.

Though the Sports Ministry had spent over Rs. six million to offer training facilities to Lakmali and her coach in Finland, the Lankan javelin thrower cut a sorry figure at the Asian Games. Both Lakmali and Subashini would have won at least a bronze medal each.

Sri Lanka had been an invincible force in sprints at the Asian Games up to 2002, it has now turned out to be a struggle to win at least one bronze medal. But that too was far from Lanka’s reach.

Commonwealth Games gold medalist Chinthana Vidanage, the overall captain of the Sri Lanka contingent, could come nowhere near his brilliant lifts. Even the Lankan boxers, for whom their foster father Dian Gomes has done so much, failed to turn those investments into results. It was a pity that the boxers had let down that devoted promoter of the game this time too.

Sri Lanka’s men’s hockey team failed to justify its presence in Incheon 2014 Games finishing a poor 10th, losing all their five matches – four in the qualifiers as well as the ninth place play-off to Singapore 3-5.

Earlier in the group qualifying round of the men’s hockey tournament, Sri Lanka lost all their matches in humiliating margins - Pakistan (0-14), India (0-8), China (0-6) and Oman (1-3). Sri Lanka which had scored only a solitary goal in the qualifying round, that too in the last game, while conceding a record 31 goals, managed to score three goals in the last game.

Shemal, a role model

Chef de Mission of the Sri Lanka contingent Rear Admiral Shemal Fernando played an exemplary role. He was a role model for sports officials and was an inspiration to all competitors. Despite a busy schedule and other administration matters that he had to attend, the senior Navy official was seen at each and every venue where the Lankans were seen in action.

Sri Lanka need to make a careful stock of what had gone wrong and find a successful strategy to bounce back at the next Asian Games, at least to win a couple of gold medals to regain the lost glory. There is no point in trying to accuse each other but all those who are involved in the administration of sport must be united to draw up a comprehensive plan to resurrect our sport.

Asian sports heavyweight China once again underlined its supremacy to take a commanding lead in the final medals standings with a total of 342 medals that included 151 gold medals, 108 silver and 83 bronze. China has topped every Asian Games medal table since 1982.

China won more gold medals than the next two countries in the standings, South Korea and Japan, combined. But that was nowhere near the record gold haul of 199 medals won as the hosts of the last 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games.

In finishing on top of the 2010 Asian Games medals standings, China had a record 199 gold, 119 silver and 98 bronze medals to total a staggering 416 medals – their best event in the history of the Games since its inauguration in 1951.

Men's T20 team came to Sri Lanka contingent's rescue to win the country's first Asian Games gold medal in 12 years. Pix: Prince Gunasekera

China fell 48 gold medals short of their performance at the last 2010 Games. But that too is understandable, as China were flexing its muscles after the 2008 Beijing Olympic triumph and under favourable home conditions in Guangzhou. With second-placed South Korea winning only three more gold medals than their efforts in Guangzhou four years ago and Japan winning one gold less than 2010, it seems that the 48 gold medals which China lost have been shared by several other second string countries.

True that South Korea fared well to secure the second place in the overall medals standings for fifth successive Games. Yet, it was South Korea’s worst performance as the hosts. Of the three time South Korea has hosted Asian Games, the 2014 performance of 79 gold medals was their worst, after 93 gold medals at 1986 Asian Games in Seoul and a record 96 gold medals at the 2002 Asian Games in Busan.

Japan virtually maintained the same level of performance to remain in the same place – third, with 47 gold medals, one short that their performance in Guangzhou 2010. South Korea earned 79 gold medals in Incheon 2014, three more than it captured at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games but still ending in a distant second place behind China.

Hosts accomplish its objective

South Korea accomplished its objective of finishing second in the medals for the fifth consecutive Asiad but came up short of its target of 90 gold medals. The host country still won gold medals in popular professional sports such as baseball, men's football and men's basketball. Son Yeon-jae, the star rhythmic gymnast and one of the faces of the Asian Games here, made history by winning South Korea's first Asian Games gold in the individual all-around final.

Competitors in the country's traditional gold mines excelled: eight gold medals from shooting, six from taekwondo and five apiece from archery and judo. Early in the competition, fencing led South Korea's quick start with eight gold medals. South Korea won at least a medal in every discipline in fencing.

Victories in major ball sports also packed arenas. South Korea defended its baseball gold medal by rallying in the eighth inning against Chinese Taipei. In an eagerly anticipated gold medal match against North Korea, South Korea scored in the dying moments for a nail-biting 1-0 victory.

In men's basketball, South Korea came from a 75-70 deficit against Iran with two minutes to play to win 79-77, for its first gold since 2002. The women's basketball, handball and volleyball teams were also golden at the Asian Games, each ending long title droughts.

In artistic gymnastics, Yang Hak-seon took silver in the men's vault -- the very event in which he's won an Olympic gold and two consecutive world championships -- while battling a nagging leg injury.

Jin Jong-oh, a pistol shooter with three Olympic gold medals, won a team gold medal in the men's 10-meter air pistol event but failed to grab his first individual Asian Games gold. Jin complained of fatigue, after having to compete at the Asian Games right after returning from the world championships in Spain.

China excelled across the board, leading all countries in athletics with 15 gold medals and in swimming with 22 gold medals. It also captured half of the 14 gold medals at stake in artistic gymnastics, and six of seven available in table tennis.

Japan ended with 47 gold medals here, compared to the 48 it won at the previous Asiad in Guangzhou.

Despite accomplishing its initial goal of clinching second place in the medal standings at the Incheon 2014 Asian Games, South Korea ended aquatics and athletics events on home soil in a dismal note without a single gold medal.

With a total of 100 gold medals up for grabs in swimming, diving, synchronized swimming, water polo, and track and field events, the host country's biggest-ever delegation of 831 athletes failed to grab a single gold medal, marking its first such drought since the 1978 Bangkok Asian Games.

Not a single South Korean topped the victory podium at the Incheon Asiad Main Stadium, the main venue for track and field events. The host country - which had initially set a goal of snatching three gold, five silver and 10 bronze from 47 events, picked up only four silver and six bronze, again falling well short of its expectations.

Adopted African-born athletes dominate

Swimmer Kosuke Hagino of Japan was adjudged The Most Valuable Player at the Incheon 2014 Asian Games.

The track and field events in Incheon were dominated by African-born athletes running for wealthy Gulf states, mainly Bahrain and Qatar. Femi Ogunode, who was born a Nigerian but became a naturalized Qatari, grabbed the gold in the 100m sprint after setting a new continental record of 9.93 seconds, while Bahrain's African imports secured a hat trick of long distance gold medals.

China, traditionally considered the powerhouse, barely saved face after picking up a total of 15 gold medals, with the men's 4x100m relay team breaking the Asian record. The four Chinese sprinters crossed the line in 37.99 seconds, becoming the first Asians to go below 38 seconds. It was also the third best time in the world this year.

However, there were some memorable moments for South Korea, traditionally considered the underdog in the events.

In a surprise, South Korean men's 4x400m relay team picked up the silver medal after setting a new national record of 3:04.03. Yeo Ho-sua anchored the team that also included Park Bong-go, Seong Hyeok-je and Park Se-jung. Lim Eun-ji, often compared by local fans to world record-holder Russian Yelena Isinbayeva, picked up the bronze in the women's pole vault, bagging the first Asian Games medal for South Korea in the event. Lim vaulted 4.15 meters.

South Korea's national anthem was not played in medal ceremonies at Munhak Park Tae-hwan Aquatics Center, an arena named after the country's superstar Park Tae-hwan and the venue for most aquatic events. The hosts picked up only two silver medals and six bronze medals in swimming. Of the eight, Park got one silver and five bronze.

Park, a 25-year-old local icon who carried the expectations of a nation on his shoulders, battled nerves throughout six days of competition.

In earlier races, Park came in having won the past two Asian Games gold medals in both the 200m and the 400m freestyle but failed to make it three in a row in either of them, settling for bronze in both races. Park tried to end his Asian Games, which could possibly be his last Asian Games on a high note but finished fourth in the 1,500m freestyle, well behind the champion and his classic rival, Sun Yang of China.

Park, dubbed ‘Marine Boy’, still managed to make history in the arena. With the bronze in his final race, the 4x100m medley relay, Park became the most decorated South Korean athlete in Asian Games history with 20 medals.

China bagged the greatest number of gold medals with 22 in swimming competitions. However, Japan managed to snatch more ‘meaningful’ golds with world-class results.

Japanese sensation Kosuke Hagino, who has cemented his status as the continent's best all-round swimmer, finished with seven medals, including four gold medals.

Hagino grabbed gold medals in the men's 200m individual medley, 200m freestyle, 4x200m freestyle relay and 400m individual medley. He also bagged one silver and two more bronzes after breaking two Asian records. The 20-year-old Japanese star has already been tipped as a strong contender to win medley gold at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

14 world records shattered

The 17th Asian Games saw 14 world records shattered by its participating athletes in the western port city of Incheon. More than half of the new world records were set by weightlifters, who erased nine of the previous figures set in the sport.

North Korean star weightlifter Kim Un-guk hoisted more than twice his own weight by lifting up 154kg in the snatch in the men's 62kg class, and proceeded to break another world record later when his combined weights in the snatch and the clean and jerk shot up to 332kg.

Two more world records were also logged by other weightlifting champs from the reclusive country, while the remaining five were all set by female lifters, including China's Zhou Lulu and Chinese Taipei's Lin Tzu Chi.

Four world records were rewritten in the shooting disciplines, with teams from China scoring the highest-ever points in the men's 50-meter rifle prone, women's 10m air rifle and in the women's team double trap. South Korean shooter Kim Mi-jin scored 110 points in the women's individual double trap to be named the world's best shooter in the discipline.

Archers also flaunted record-breaking performances during the 16-day competition.

The trio of Seok Ji-hyun, Choi Bo-min and Kim Yun-hee from the host country, long known for its dominance in the sport, earned a combined 238 points in the compound women's team event and emerged as the new world record holders.

By country, North Korea and China took the lead after their athletes rewrote four world records each. They were followed by Chinese Taipei with three, and then by South Korea and Kazakhstan with two and one, respectively. Athletes set new Asian records during their athletic bouts, and even excluding those in the world record category, the number came to 14 in total.

Kosuke Hagino of Japan, the surprising swimming champ, seized first place in the men's 200m individual medley with an Asian record of 1:55.34. Hagino, voted the Most Valuable Player of the Asian Games, stunned a pair of Olympic champs, Sun Yang of China and Park Tae-hwan of South Korea, to win the 200m freestyle race, one of four swimming gold medals here. Qatar's Femi Seun Ogunode grabbed the gold in the men's 100m sprint in an Asian record of 9.93 seconds, becoming the fastest man on the continent.

The Nigeria-born sprinter, who moved to Qatar to represent the west Asian country in 2009, got inside the 10-second barrier, which many runners originally from Asia have been struggling to break for years.

Spectators present at this year's Asian Games may have been among the lucky ones as the 2010 Asian Games produced only three world records fall, while nine world records were set at the 2006 event. The Busan Asian Games, another event hosted by South Korea in 2002, currently holds the mark for the highest number of world records set at an Asian Games - 22.

All in all, there were a total of 14 world records and 28 Asian records at this year's Asian Games in Incheon. The numerous records at the Asian Games attest to the notion that the level of competition is in Asia is not that behind compared with that of the whole world.

It was a rare honour for the writer who covered his sixth successive Asian Games for the Sunday Observer and the Daily News, having reported the Asian version of the Olympics in Hiroshima 1994, Bangkok 1998, Busan 2002, Doha 2006 and Guangzhou 2010.

The Incheon 2014 was even better experience with six old Royalists playing their respective roles for ‘Team Sri Lanka’. Beside my classmates - Amateur Boxing Association of Sri Lanka President Aubrey Peiris and Amateur Rowing Association of Sri Lanka Secretary Dimuth Gunawardena, it was nice to have the company of veteran boxing promoter cum coach Dian Gomes, Chef de Mission Rear Admiral Shemal Fernando and beach volleyball manager Air Vice Marshal Rohan Pathirage in the ‘Team Royal’.


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