Houston Community News >> China Blazes Ahead in Asian Games

12/2/2006 China took the first gold medal and plenty more thereafter, the two Koreas marched together again and Japan overcame initial disappointments to grab a handful of medals on the first full day of competition Saturday at the 15th Asian Games in Qatar.

With 20 gold medals up for grabs in five sports on the opening day, the Chinese predictably proved the pacesetters, taking the first gold of the Games in the men's 10-meter air rifle team category before firing their way to an all-gold sweep of the day's six shooting events, then snatching more in weightlifting, swimming and gymnastics for a total of 16.

Japan won three golds in swimming and judo, while South Korea also took a judo gold to become the only other of the 45 participating nations to win a gold medal on the opening day as China, which has topped the Asian Games medal table for the past 24 years, again left all rivals in its wake.

The Games were declared officially open on Friday by the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, in a spectacular ceremony that set a new benchmark for extravagance, with thousands of performers in a lavish fiesta of flaming torches, video graphics, laser beams and aerial pyrotechnics.

No less impressive was the sight of the North and South Korean delegations marching together again under the unification flag as the procession of Asian countries streamed into a packed Khalifa Stadium. The two nations had marched together at the Asian Games in Busan four years ago and the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and are planning to form a joint team for the Beijing Games in 2008.

Athens Olympic gold medalist Saori Yoshida, who led the Japanese procession, said she was overwhelmed by the extravaganza. ''Tonight's opening ceremony was as amazing as that of the Olympics,'' said the four-time wrestling world champion, adding she felt the significance of being a female flag bearer at a major sports event in an Islamic country.

Japan had suffered early disappointment on Thursday prior to the official opening when the women's table tennis team, featuring teenage ace Ai Fukuhara, was beaten by China in the quarterfinals to miss out on the medals, while the men's team was eliminated at the same stage by Hong Kong.

Olympic hammer throw champion Koji Murofushi then pulled out of the Games just hours before the opening ceremony due to a torn calf muscle, unable to defend the titles he won in Busan and at the 1998 Bangkok Games.

On Saturday, however, the women's badminton team lifted the gloom with an early 4-1 victory over Taiwan to reach the semifinals and ensure Japan's first medal of the Games, there being no playoff for third place.

But Japan's first medal in hand came at the Hamad Aquatic Center when Maki Mita took bronze in the women's 200-meter freestyle. Hidemasa Sano then won Japan's first gold in the men's 400-meter individual medley in a time of 4 minutes, 16.18 seconds, with Shinya Taniguchi taking silver.

But in the women's 100-meter butterfly, Yuko Nakanishi, the Athens Olympic women's 200-meter butterfly bronze medalist, and Ayako Doi failed to add to the tally, finishing fifth and fourth respectively, as China took gold and silver.

Asami Kitagawa won silver in the women's 50-meter breaststroke behind China's Ji Liping, and in the women's 4x100-meter medley relay Japan was again pipped to gold by China. It was a familiar story in the men's 200-meter butterfly, as Takeshi Matsuda and Ryuichi Shibata finished second and third behind Wu Peng, as China took five of the six swimming golds.

Japan fared better in judo at the Qatar Sports Club Indoor Hall, with Sae Nakazawa winning gold in the women's under-78 kg class with a decision over South Korea's Lee So Yeon in extra time and Yasuyuki Muneta retaining his title with a ''yusei'' decision over Iranian big man Mohammad Reza Rodaki in the men's over-100 kilogram final.

Nakazawa allowed her opponent to score a ''koka'' point but battled back to send the match into extra time with an outside leg trip in the dying seconds of regulation before winning a split decision by the judges, while Muneta, the 2003 world champion, scored two ''yuko'' points and a ''waza-ari'' against the 2-meter Rodaki, whose only point came with a ''koka'' near the end.

But gold medal favorite Satoshi Ishii had to settle for silver after losing to South Korea's Jang Sung Ho in the men's 100-kg class. Jang scored a point, tackling Ishii to the mat for a ''waza-ari'' and later used a hip throw for an ippon that ended the match at 4 minutes, 49 seconds.

Earlier, Midori Shintani won Japan's first judo medal by beating Mariya Shekerova of Uzbekistan for the bronze in the women's over 78- kg class, pinning her opponent at 3 minutes, 27 seconds to score an ippon win.

Shintani had earlier suffered an upset loss to South Korea's Kim Na Young when her opponent scored a ''yuko'' point at 1:30, leaving her without a chance of winning gold.

In gymnastics, China stretched its Asian Games title winning streak to nine in the men's team event, as newly crowned world champion Yang Wei, who dethroned Hiroyuki Tomita in Aarhus, Denmark, in October, turned in a string of solid routines to lead the country to a total of 377.100 points to Japan's 373.050. South Korea took bronze with 371.500.

Wei led the field in the vault and parallel bars on his way to finishing top of the individual all-around qualification standings ahead of Tomita in second place and Chinese teammate Chen Yibing in third.

Despite a second defeat in two months in major international meets by China, Japan finished one place higher than in the previous three Asian Games where South Korea took silver.
At the Al-Dana Sports Club, China swept the golds in all three of the day's weightlifting events -- the men's 56-kg, women's 48-kg and women's 53-kg classes.

But nowhere was Chinese dominance more conspicuous than at the Lusail Shooting Range, where Liu Tianyou won double honors, topping the men's 10-meter air rifle category shortly after leading China to gold in the team event over South Korea and India, with Japan just behind in fourth place.

It was a similar story in the women's 10-meter air rifle events, with Du Li taking individual gold and China beating off Singapore and India in the team category. The women's trap also saw double-gold for China, as Chen Li took the individual event after leading the Chinese to the trap team gold. North Korea took silver and South Korea bronze, with Japan one point behind in fourth.

China finished the day with 23 of the 68 medals awarded -- 16 gold, five silver and two bronze, while Japan had three gold, six silver and three bronze, and South Korea one gold, two silver and eight bronze.

Among the day's other events, Japan got off to a winning start in men's basketball by beating Taiwan 85-75 in the preliminary competition. Shinsuke Kashiwagi had a team-high 16 points and Kenichi Sako netted 15 as Japan came back from 42-41 down to lead 64-55 after the third quarter and held on to close out the Group F match at the Basketball Indoor Hall.

In women's volleyball, Miyuki Takahashi's powerful spikes and excellent setting by captain Yoshie Takeshita helped Japan twice come from behind to beat Kazakhstan 23-25, 25-13, 20-25, 25-22, 15-13. Japan beat Mongolia in straight sets in its first Group B match, and will next play Thailand, which also beat Mongolia 3-0 on Saturday.

In women's soft tennis, Japan got off to an easy start with a 3-0 win over Mongolia, while the Japanese men's team beat Nepal also in straight sets in their first match.

In baseball, Japan beat South Korea 10-7, while Taiwan walloped Thailand 16-0, and in women's field hockey Japan swept aside Malaysia 7-0 in the preliminary round, while China crushed Hong Kong 9-0 and South Korea trounced Taiwan 8-0.
But Japan came a cropper in the preliminary round of sepaktakraw, the men losing to Myanmar 3-0 and the women to Vietnam by a similar score, while in kabaddi Japan fell to Pakistan 34-16 and then lost to India 44-25.

The 15th Asian Games, which also mark the return of Iraq to the international competition for the first time since 1986, feature 39 sports with 424 gold medals on offer. Chess and triathlon have been added to the program for the first time ever, while the Games also feature non-Olympic events such as bowling, bodybuilding, golf and rugby.

(Contributed by Kyodo News)