Asian Games: China on top at Asiad again but Japan gaining in swimming and other key Olympic sports ahead of Tokyo 2020
Mainland athletes collected 132 gold medals compared to Japan’s 75 but are almost equal with their rivals in four disciplines that reap medals at Tokyo 2020
China have been dominating the Asian Games ever since they topped the medals table for the first time in Delhi in 1982. The 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang marks the 10th time in a row that the Chinese have finished number one.
China’s sports machine is simply too big to allow other countries to compete when it comes to the region’s biggest multi-sport event. Therefore, a measure of the mainland’s success has less to do with its medal count as opposed to how their athletes compare to rival Asian nations in sports that will produce glory in the Olympic Games.
In such a scenario, China will certainly be looking nervously at Japan, who finished second in the medal standings in 2018 and will have home advantage at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
China earned 289 medals over the past two weeks 132 gold, 92 silver and 65 bronze.
Japan finished with 205 medals in total comprising 75 gold, 56 silver and 74 bronze. South Korea were third on 49 gold, 58 silver and 70 bronze for a total of 177.
However, certain sports offer more medals than others while traditional events such as wushu, which China dominates, are absent from the Olympics.
Before the start of the Jakarta Games, Yasuhiro Yamashita, head of the Japanese Olympic Committee, said the country was hoping to challenge China in four sports with the aim of assessing their standards ahead of Tokyo 2020.
The four sports were swimming, judo, wrestling and gymnastics, which they hope can help Japan to a target of at least 30 gold medals in Tokyo.
These are sports in which Japan considers itself to have athletes who can compete against world-class athletes from outside Asia.
Japan has deliberately ignored athletics, even though it offers plenty of medal prospects, because they feel most of the competition from outside Asia will be too strong for Japan and China.
When it comes to the four target sports, China’s medal haul in Indonesia is 29 gold, 25 silver and 24 bronze for a total of 78. Japan, however, can boast a total of 81 medals, 29 gold, 29 silver and 23 bronze.
The Japanese women were particularly strong with Ikee Rikako winning six gold medals. China, though, boasted men’s freestyle king Sun Yang, who won golds in the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1,500m.
At the 2016 Rio Olympics, China finished third in the medals standings behind the United States and Great Britain, winning 26 gold, 18 silver and 26 bronze. Japan were sixth with 12 gold, 8 silver and 21 bronze.
And with their performances in Jakarta and Palembang, China will be looking to their stars to ensure they stay as Asia’s number one sporting nation at the 2020 Games.
Swimmer Sun Yang will lead the way because he is one of the few Chinese athletes capable of capturing more than one gold medal, having already won three Olympic titles.
Liu Xiang is another swimmer who can dominate in the pool after she set a world record 26.98 seconds in the women’s 50 metres backstroke in Jakarta.
And sprinter Su Bingtian confirmed his status as Asia’s fastest man by winning gold in the men’s 100m sprint in a Games record of 9.92 seconds.
China had mixed results in the major team sports. The men’s football team were knocked out early by Saudi Arabia while the women – once the best team in the region – reached the final where they lost to Japan.
China reclaimed gold in the men’s and women’s basketball competition after missing out to South Korea in 2014. The men were led by their NBA stars Zhou Qi and Ding Yayuhang as they overcome a tough Philippines outfit headed by Cleveland Cavaliers star Jordan Clarkson in a pool match before marching to the final, where they defeated Iran.
The women defeated a joint North and South Korea team to give China a men and women double for the fourth time at the Asian Games.
One of unsung heroes of the Chinese team is Guo Dan, the first mainland athlete to represent her country in the Winter Olympics and the Asian Games. She was a member of China’s speed skating team at this year’s Pyeongchang Games and in Jakarta won a silver medal in the women’s 20km roller skating competition.
Guo is expected to the China flag carrier at the closing ceremony.
Another athlete who strengthened her status as one of the world’s best was volleyball player Zhu Ting, who led the Lang Ping-coached team to their expected gold.