Zhao Qinggang celebrates his Asian record in the javelin at the Asian Games (© Getty Images)
They were already leading the athletics medal table at the Asian Games in the Korean city of Inchon, but China went from strength to strength on Thursday (2), adding four more gold medals to their tally.
Javelin thrower Zhao Qinggang was undoubtedly the star performer on the penultimate day of the athletics programme. Defending champion Yukifumi Murakami took an early lead with 81.66m in the first round, but Zhao surpassed that mark by 30 centimetres in the second round to move into the lead.
Zhao then came to life, adding exactly one metre to the Chinese record that had stood since 2000 with his third-round throw of 85.29m. After a foul in round four, he improved again in round five with 86.50m.
Meanwhile, Japan’s Ryohei Arai had moved into second place with 84.42m and Uzbekistan’s Ivan Zaytsev was sitting in third with 83.68m, all three athletes having thrown beyond the previous Games record of 83.38m.
But Zhao wasn’t finished. He saved his best throw for the last round, once again smashing his lifetime best with 89.15m. Having already broken the Games record and Chinese record in the previous rounds, this time he took down the Asian record that had stood for more than 25 years.
Arai and Zaytsev didn’t improve with their last throw, hold on to their silver and bronze medals respectively. Having won silver in 2002 and 2006 and gold in 2010, 2009 world bronze medallist Murakami finished outside the medals.
While Zhao was lighting up the infield, his compatriots were doing likewise on the track as both Chinese 4x100m quartets were a class above their rivals.
The men’s team featured 100m silver medallist Su Bingtian and national record-holder Zhang Peimeng on the last two legs. With near-perfect exchanges, they brought the baton home in 37.99, not only smashing the Games record by 0.79 and the Chinese record by 0.39, but they also improved on the Asian record set by Japan in 2007.
Japan finished second, exactly half a second behind but also inside the previous Games record.
Just 20 minutes earlier, China had won the women’s 4x100m by an even bigger margin, also smashing the Games record.
The quartet of Tao Yujia, Kong Lingwei, Lin Huijun and Wei Yongli covered one lap of the track in 42.83, the fastest time by a Chinese team since 1997 to take more than half a second off the Games record. Kazakhstan finished more than a second behind to take silver in 43.90.
More medals came China’s way in the men’s triple jump. Bronze medallist four years ago while still a junior, Cao Shuo improved by two places to take gold with a winning leap of 17.30m, just one centimetre shy of the Games record that was set in 1990.
Team-mate Dong Bin was second with 16.95m, improving by one place with his final leap of the competition to finish two centimetres ahead of South Korea’s Kim Deokhyeon, the long jump gold medallist at the 2010 Asian Games.
Multiple distance medals for Bahrain
It was also a good day for Bahrain as they won multiple medals in the men’s 10,000m and the women’s 5000m and marathon.
The 5000m looked set to be particularly competitive as the top four finishers from the 1500m were up against the gold and silver medallists from the 10,000m, and it did not disappoint.
As is often the case in championship races, Japanese athletes did much of the early pace-setting work. Misaki Onishi led the field through the first kilometre in a respectable 3:03.12 before her compatriot Riko Matsuzaki took up the running for the next two kilometres, passing 3000m in 9:15.41.
Soon after, China’s Ding Changqin moved to the front, but the Bahraini duo of Maryam Jamal and Mimi Belete, the gold and silver medallists respectively from the 1500m, were always positioned well.
Aware of her compatriot’s strong finish, defending champion Belete made a move with two laps to go, but Jamal breezed past with 150m remaining, kicking ahead to win in 14:59.69, having covered the final kilometre in 2:45.
Belete held on for second in a PB of 15:00.87 while Changqin, the 10,000m silver medallist, smashed her PB with 15:12.51 for third place. 10,000m champion Alia Saeed Mohammed was sixth in 15:30.46.
It was Jamal’s second Asian Games double, having won the 800m and 1500m in 2006. But it was the first time ever that a woman had won both the 1500m and 5000m at the Asian Games.
Earlier in the day, Eunice Kirwa became Bahrain’s first winner of the women’s marathon in the history of the Asian Games, winning in 2:25:37.
She made a move early on, breaking away before 10km, which she passed in 36:17. But Japan’s Ryoko Kizaki caught up with her at the half-way mark, which was covered in 1:13:20, and the pair continued to run together until the latter stages.
With three miles left, Kirwa finally shook off her opponent and forged ahead to take the gold medal, 13 seconds ahead of Kizaki.
A bit further back, there was another – and closer – Bahrain-Japan duel for the bronze medal with Lishan Dula holding off Japan’s Eri Hayakawa by one second, clocking 2:33:13.
For the third Asian Games in succession, Bahrain won the men’s 10,000m, this time thanks to El Hassan Elabbassi.
A lead pack of five athletes formed early on and after 10 minutes of running they soon became four. Bahrain’s Isaac Korir led from Japan’s Suguru Osako, Elabbassi and Saudi Arabia’s Tariq Ahmed Al-Amri.
Two laps later, Al-Amri was dropped, leaving just Korir, Osako and Elabbassi out in front. With seven laps to go, Elabbassi surged ahead with laps of 63 and 64 seconds as his compatriot Korir was finally dropped.
It was now down to just Elabbassi and Osako, the Japanese 3000m record-holder who is coached by Alberto Salazar. With 1000m to go, Osako moved into the lead for the first time but still appeared to be holding something back.
But even with a bit of a kick at the end, it wasn’t enough to hold off Elabbassi, who sped past with less than 200m remaining to win in 28:11.20, 0.74 ahead of Osako. Al-Amri came through to take bronze in 28:28.15.
India wins fourth 4x400m title in Games record
The Indian women and Saudi Arabian men entered this year’s Asian Games having won the 4x400m at the past three editions. While India made it a fourth gold in the women’s 4x400m, the Saudi Arabian team were beaten soundly by Japan in the men’s contest.
A 51.6 second-leg run from 800m silver medallist Tintu Luka put India in the lead and they never surrendered it. Poovamma Raju Machettira brought the team home in 3:28.68, breaking the Games record of 3:29.02 they set when winning four years ago.
Japan finished more than two seconds behind to take silver in 3:30.80 with China picking up the bronze in 3:32.02.
Japan led from start to finish in the men’s race. A 45.6 split from Yuzo Kanemaru was followed by a 44.6 effort from Kenji Fujimitsu. Former world junior 200m champion Shota Iizuka, who just 35 minutes earlier had competed in the 4x100m, maintained the lead on the third leg before handing over to anchor-leg runner Nobuya Kato, who crossed the line in 3:01.88.
Individual 400m champion Yousef Masrahi was meant to be Saudi Arabia’s biggest asset. In a way, he was as he clocked an anchor split of 44.47. But he also cost them the silver medal as he eased up before the line, allowing South Korea’s Yeo Hosua to literally leap past to get the verdict in a photo finish, both teams clocking 3:04.03.
All three medallists in the women’s high jump featured on the podium four years ago, but this time the order was slightly different. Uzbekistan’s Svetlana Radzivil successfully defended her title, leaping 1.94m before taking three failed attempts at a would-be Asian record of 2.00m.
China’s Zheng Xingjuan improved on her bronze medal from 2010 by taking silver with 1.92m, with Uzbekistan’s Nadiya Dusanova getting the bronze with 1.89m.
Like Radzivil, Saudi Arabian shot putter Sultan Abdulmajeed Alhabashi successfully defended his Asian Games title. The Asian record-holder had to work hard for it though.
Chinese Taipei’s Chang Ming Huang led from the start, throwing 19.05m in the first round before improving to 19.97m. That remained the leading mark until Alhabashi surpassed it by just two centimetres with his penultimate throw.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF