• Kyodo

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The biggest-ever Winter Asian Games came to a close Saturday after the eight-day event involving around 1,000 athletes and officials from 29 countries was held in Aomori Prefecture.

“With feelings of happiness and pride we are coming to the end of the most exciting eight days of true joy of competitions, friendship and glory,” Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) vice president Timothy Fok said after officially declaring the Games closed.

Japan, already sure of the top spot in the final medal standings by Thursday, put the icing on the cake and finished the Games with 24 golds to outclass regional rivals South Korean and China.

South Korea finished second with 10 golds after winning five on Friday, while China settled for third with nine after topping the medal table at the previous two Games held in 1996 and 1999.

Japan topped the medal standings both times it hosted the Winter Asian Games in 1986 and 1990 in Sapporo but finished a disappointing fourth behind China, South Korea and Kazakstan at the 1999 event. In the finale of the Games’ competition, captain Yoshikazu Kabayama, Kiyoshi Fujita and Masayoshi Ito each scored twice to lead Japan to a 7-2 victory over Kazakstan in the men’s ice hockey final.

The host nation, fielding many of its top athletes, including 500-meter speed skating world record holder Hiroyasu Shimizu and freestyle skier Aiko Uemura, also netted 23 silver and 23 bronze for its biggest-ever total Winter Asian Games medal count of 67.

North Korea, which had said it might opt out of the closing ceremony due to stifling attention from the Japanese media, marched together with South Korea under a unification flag.

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