• Kyodo

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Japan saved its worst for last in a poor Asian Games.

With 42 gold on offer on the final Sunday, the maximum number on any one day in the 16-day event, Japan claimed just a solitary gold amid a series of upsets.

Disappointment in the men’s soccer final, second-place behind a North Korean in the women’s marathon, a humbling by South Korea in rugby and a shocking defeat by Thailand in the men’s 4×100-meter relay against just one victory in mountain biking.

“Black Sunday” was followed by a failure to win gold in the men’s marathon and the other events held on the final day as Japan finished third in the medal standings with 44 gold medals.

It is the worst total since 1990 for Japan, which brought a record number of athletes and officials to Pusan.

Japanese delegation head Teruji Kogake admitted the performance fell way below expectations.

“It’s very disappointing,” Kogake said, “We set two goals — to win 65 gold medals and finish second in the medal table — and we failed by a long way in both.”

Before the start of the games, Japan had targeted a record number of gold medals with the hope of upstaging hosts South Korea.

With a record 419 gold medals on offer at the largest-ever Asian Games, the Chinese (150) and the South Koreans (96) both finished with their highest-ever number of gold.

Japan stumbled at the start of the games, relinquishing its claim as the top swimming nation in Asia to the Chinese.

The only consolation came when Kosuke Kitajima, who set a world record in the 200-meter breaststroke, was named winner of the Asian Games “Most Valued Performance” award.

But Kitajima’s magnificent achievement of breaking the longest-standing world record amid a personal haul of three gold failed to lift his teammates, as Japan fell four short of its original target of 15.

The withdrawal of Japan’s leading female swimmer Tomoko Hagiwara left a gap too big to fill as China dominated the women’s races with Xu Yanwei claiming a Games-high five gold medals.

But disappointment in the pool was nothing compared to the disaster on the track.

After finishing with 12 gold in 1998, Japan’s athletics team managed just two this time around.

While world silver medalist Koji Murofushi cruised to a second Asian Games title in the men’s hammer and Shingo Suetsugu netted the 200 meters gold, no one else made the step up.

Firstly, Nobuharu Asahara slumped in the men’s 100. Pre-race predictions of a sub-10 second effort went awry as Asahara crossed the line behind Saudi Arabia’s Jamal Al Safaar and the 30-year-old made a hash of the final baton exchange in the relay and Japan suffered another upset, finishing second to Thailand.

One of Japan’s most likely source of medals in Athens is likely to come in judo as in the recent Olympics Games.

Kosei Inoue, Sydney Olympic champion in the 100-kg class, netted gold at his international debut in the men’s open category.

“With the way we rely heavily on swimming and judo, Japan does not have a chance (in the medal standings),” deputy chef de mission Reiichi Matsunaga said Monday in wrapping up Japan’s overall performance at the games.

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