Olympic champion Sun Yang powered to victory in his signature 1,500-meter freestyle event, asserting his primacy over South Korean rival Park Tae-hwan and capping Chinese domination in the Asian Games pool on Friday.
Sun led from the get-go and finished five seconds ahead of silver medalist Kohei Yamamoto but 18 seconds behind his world record time. China’s Wang Kecheng was third, while Park came fourth, 22.4 seconds off Sun’s pace.
Sun’s third gold of the games was one less than Kosuke Higano, who shocked Sun in the 200 freestyle on opening night last Saturday.
“There were both achievements and disappointments, namely losing the 200. But I’m going to train hard for next year’s world championships and see even better results,” Sun said.
At the end of the seventh day, with 196 of 439 gold medals awarded, China was atop the medal tally with 91 golds, followed by host South Korea with 31, and Japan with 30.
World records kept falling in weightlifting, with China’s Zhou Lulu setting a new women’s 75-kg mark in the clean and jerk of 192 kilos.
Pakistan beat Bangladesh in the women’s cricket final, South Korea struck gold twice in equestrian, and Japan won the triathlon mixed final.
The pool competition was billed as the Sun vs. Park show, but became a showcase for the enduring political and sporting rivalry between China and Japan. Chinese men took 22 golds to Japan’s 12, Kazakhstan claimed three, and Singapore it’s first men’s swimming gold in 32 years.
Disputes over history and ownership of Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea have helped fire the rivalry, with Chinese fans booing Japanese swimmers, and China’s social media lighting up with anti-Japanese commentary. For all that, there seemed to be no apparent animosity between swimmers from the two nations.
Though strong in the heats, Japanese swimmers again failed to come through in the finals, and were repeatedly relegated to second and third place. Losing their Asian Games title to China in the men’s 4×100 medley relay lent an especially bitter ending to the evening, a sentiment made clear in post-race remarks from swimmer Yasuhiro Koseki.
“It was extremely disappointing to lose in that event,” Koseki said.
The Japanese were beaten by a mere 0.33 seconds by China to end the evening, with South Korea — anchored by Park — coming third.
Park, who was presented with a cake by Sun to mark his 25th birthday on Saturday, said he wouldn’t let the lack of Asiad success hold him back.
“I trained really hard, but it’s a shame I didn’t achieve greats results in the Asian Games,” he said. “However, I believe this was a great opportunity and a great experience for the future.” He ended the meet with one silver and five bronzes.
Asian Games 100 butterfly champion Chen Xinyi set the tone for the last night of swimming with a win in the women’s 50 freestyle, followed by Miki Uchida, who topped the heats.
Japan squandered another chance in the men’s 50 breaststroke when Koseki was second to Kazakhstan’s Dmitry Balandin, who collected his third gold of the games.
With a total of five medals, Kazakhstan had by far its best showing ever in a swimming meet.
“I’m too tired to smile, but I’m really happy,” Balandin said.
Sayaka Akase brought home Japan’s only gold on the day in the women’s 200 backstroke, the nation’s 12th at the Games. Kanako Watanabe and Miho Teramura came in second and third, respectively, in the women’s 200 individual medley w
“The bottom line is, we lost because I wasn’t good enough,” Shioura said. “I hope I never have to experience this humiliation again.”
Japan head coach Norimasa Hirai pointed to the 10 more gold medals won by China as an indication of his team’s standing in world swimming. While the Japanese men had more golds than China by 8-7, the women were badly outscored 15-4.
Japan had a productive meet here overall, but Hirai, looking ahead to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in two years’ time, believes the gap between the world’s best remains.
His message to some of his swimmers was crystal clear: get real.
“I bet more than half our swimmers feel completely different about this meet, compared to their own projections before it started,” Hirai said. “China went all in for this. The Asian Games is an important meet in terms of development, and you have to treat it as such.
“If you’re serious about winning on the world stage, you have to stop saying you can or can’t do something because you’re Japanese or Asian; that’s just an excuse.”
“Because if who we are by blood decided what we can or can’t do, what business does (Kosuke) Hagino have of winning the 200 free against Sun Yang and Park Tae Hwan?”
“You can’t just say, ‘Oh, I want to swim fast.’ You need to set specific targets for yourself and come up with specific ways to try to attain them. That’s the bar, and that’s what it takes.”
Saturday marks the beginning of the athletics program, where China’s Zhang Peimeng will renew his quest to become the first Asian-born man to break 10 seconds in the 100 against a field including Asian record-holder Samuel Francis of Qatar.
Olympic triple jump champion Olga Rypakova of Kazakhstan and high jumper Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar will also seek to defend their titles as a prelude to next year’s world championships.