Asian Games: Sun Yang, Jordan Clarkson and other world-class athletes help Indonesia stage the best Games ever
The big names showed a genuine love for the two-week sporting gala, giving the Asian Games a massive credibility shot
Chinese swimmer Sun Yang showed on a number of occasions that he cared about the Asian Games. The first was when he insisted on repeating the medal ceremony for the men’s 200 metres freestyle after the flags suddenly collapsed to the floor while the China national anthem played.
Later that week, he responded to a call to swim in the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay – a race not on his schedule – despite receiving treatment on a troublesome back until 2am the previous night.
And then there was his tearful embrace with a mainland reporter after he won the men’s 1,500m freestyle for his fourth individual gold medal in Jakarta.
Filipino-American Jordan Clarkson also showed he cared. The Cleveland Cavaliers star pleaded with the NBA to allow him to represent the Philippines at the Asian Games basketball competition.
He scored 20 plus points in each game he played in Jakarta and, during their defeat by South Korea in the quarter-finals, he showed his frustration several times as his side failed to make the most of their chances.
Chinese sprinter Su Bingtian cared. Tottenham Hotspur footballer Son Heung-min, of South Korea, cared. Japan’s badminton sensation Kento Momota, Singapore butterfly ace Joseph Schooling, Malaysia’s squash queen Nicol David, China women’s volleyball linchpin Zhu Ting and, of course, Hong Kong’s cycling star Sarah Lee Wai-sze – they all cared.
And it is because those big names – along with 10,000 athletes from nations and territories whose stories of sacrifice and tears we may never know – cared that the Asian Games was given a massive shot of credibility.
With hosts Indonesia putting on a world-class show – yes, there were some logistical and communication issues but nothing you will not find at any Olympics or major games – the Asian Games has truly emerged as the second greatest multisport event in the world. Not only in terms of number of participants but also in the quality of athletes and organisational ability.
The Asian Games needs its world-class stars to care and they all came out to play in numbers never seen before and helped strengthen the integrity and status of the Jakarta extravaganza.
From a sporting point of view, the Asian Games is a viable arena for the top stars from China, Japan and South Korea and other countries to test each other ahead of the Olympics that follow two years on.
For athletes such as Sun, the Jakarta Games was more than preparation for Tokyo 2020. He felt he had unfinished business, such as winning a first Asian Games 800m freestyle title – which he did while adding the 1,500m, 200m and 400m golds to his collection, giving him a career nine in total.
For Korea’s Son, it was about helping his team to gold so he could be exempted from compulsory two years service in the South Korea military.
Women’s squash individual gold medallist David wanted to prove she still had the ability to play at the top level after a decade of dominating the professional circuit like no other player had done before.
Each world-class athlete taking part in the Games had their own reasons for wanting to succeed. And if that wasn’t incentive enough, then the staggering and inspiring opening ceremony on August 18 that Jakarta put on would surely have strengthened their resolve and convinced them that they were about to perform in a special place.
The ceremony set the tone for the Games. From the giant, picture-perfect mountain and waterfall backdrop installed inside the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium to the dramatic entrance by Indonesian President Jokowi – via a Thai stuntman on a motorcycle – Jakarta raised the bar in how to open a major games. Tokyo and Hangzhou, in four years, will need to summon the world’s best creative and artistic minds if they want to beat Jakarta 2018.
Despite worries about air pollution, traffic and the fact that Indonesia only had three years to put the Games together, the two cities of Jakarta and Palembang can be proud of their work.
Before the Games, they called for volunteers. More than 50,000 applied and 30,000 were chosen. These are young men and women who sweated under a burning sun – there did not appear to be any rain during the two weeks – answered questions, gave directions, organised buses and ate out of cardboard boxes since long before the Games officially opened.
There were times when they did not know the answers, when they gave wrong information, but that happens at all the major events. These volunteers in Indonesia were among the best ever and have played a major role in the success of the Games.
All because they, like Sun Yang, Jordan Clarkson, Son Heung-min, Su Bingtian and their ilk, cared about the Asian Games. Thanks Jakarta, you would be a worthy Olympic candidate city.