Pole vault winner Ernest John Obiena at the Asian Games in Hangzhou (© AFP / Getty Images)
Chinese athletes grabbed seven out of the 12 gold medals on offer during the opening two days of athletics action at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, while Ernest John Obiena from the Philippines improved the Games record by 20cm to take the spotlight in the men’s pole vault.
Among China's winners were global medallists Gong Lijiao and Wang Zheng, plus Xie Zhenye, who claimed the men's 100m crown ahead of Thailand's Puripol Boonson, who equalled the world U18 best in the semifinals.
Games record for Obiena
In the men’s pole vault on Saturday (30), the 27-year-old world silver medallist Obiena only needed three attempts to clinch the gold medal with a Games record of 5.75m. He went on to further improve it to 5.90m and then chose to attack his own Asian record of 6.00m, although his three brave attempts at 6.02m were in vain.
"I didn't want to stop at 5.90m. I'm excited to take this medal, put it on a shelf, but I would have liked to hit a record in front of an Asian crowd. That would have been amazing," he said. "Unfortunately, I didn't have it in me, but this is one of the biggest stadiums I've been in and one of the most amazing crowds. I felt so welcomed here.”
China’s Huang Bokai and Saudi Arabia’s Hussain Asim Al-Hizam both cleared 5.65m as the silver went to Huang on countback.
The three athletes on the podium all train with the same coach, Vitaly Petrov.
“We’re happy to be on this podium together,” said Obiena. “We do this every day. We compete and push each other to the very best.”
Yang edges Ma in a thrilling last-kilometre duel
The women’s 20km race walk staged alongside the Qiantang River in Hangzhou on Friday (29) morning saw a dramatic last-lap battle between Chinese duo Yang Jiayu, gold medallist at the 2017 World Championships, and Ma Zhenxia, winner of the 2022 World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships in Muscat.
Ma Zhenxia, Nanako Fujii and Yang Jiayu in the 20km race walk in Hangzhou (© AFP / Getty Images)
The 27-year-old Yang, who set the world record of 1:23:49 two years ago in Huangshan, was slightly ahead of her teammate when they hit the bell. As they passed the last water station, Ma accidentally stepped on Yang’s left foot, causing the latter’s left heel to slip out of her shoe. After hesitation, Yang stopped to put the shoe back on, only to find Ma some 10 metres ahead when she stood up.
The determined Yang refused to throw in the towel. She kept pushing ahead and overtook Ma before the last turning point. And the 25-year-old Ma soon made her move, retaking the pole position with some 100 metres to go.
Then it was Yang’s showtime as the defending champion overtook Ma once again ahead of the finish, hitting the line in 1:30:03.
Ma finished one second behind to take the silver and Japan’s Nanako Fujii, who faded away from the three-woman leading group after 12km, finished third in 1:33:49.
“When the shoe was stepped off my heel, I didn’t want to stop at the first moment. But then I realised I could not walk like that for the home stretch. So, I had to stop to solve the problem,” Yang said.
“It’s really a tough race for me because of the hot weather and the humidity. And I am not in a very good physical condition as well. I decided to follow the others in the early part of the race and see what will happen in the last two kilometres. I am really happy to win the race.”
In the men’s 20km race, the hosts also managed to wrap up a one-two finish. National Games champion Zhang Jun pulled clear from teammate Wang Zhaozhao after 15km to seal the deal in 1:23:00.
Wang took the silver in 1:24:08, followed by Japan’s Yutaro Murayama at 1:24:41.
Overwhelming victories for Gong and Wang
Olympic and two-time world champion Gong captured a convincing victory on Friday night to win the women’s shot put gold. The 34-year-old Chinese star surpassed 19 metres from five of her six attempts, grabbing the victory with a 19.58m throw.
That is Gong’s third straight gold medal from four outings at the Asian Games and also the 12th win in a row for Chinese female shot putters at the quadrennial multi-sport event.
The silver also went to China as Song Jiayuan, the Universiade champion in Chengdu last month, finished at 18.92m. India's Kiran Baliyan was third at 17.36m.
Gong Lijiao in action in Hangzhou (© AFP / Getty Images)
Like Gong, hammer thrower Wang of China was also competing in her fourth Asian Games. And after three consecutive runner-up finishes, the 35-year-old finally stepped on the top of the podium in Hangzhou.
The Olympic silver medallist seemed to be struggling to find her rhythm in the opening three rounds as the unexpected rain made the throwing circle wet and slippery. She achieved a mark of 69.83m from the fourth round to take the lead and kept on to improve it before finishing with a winning mark of 71.53m.
“Finally, I took the gold medal in my fourth Asian Games. It might be the heaviest medal I have ever taken in my life,” said Wang, who burst into tears of joy in the mixed zone.
Her teammate Zhao Jie finished second at 69.44m and Kim Taehui of Korea hurled a personal best of 64.14m to finish third.
China also won three other gold medals as Xie clocked a wind-assisted 9.97 (2.4m/s) to win the men’s 100m, Ge Manqi took the women’s 100m title in 11.23 and Wang Qi snatched the men’s hammer gold at 72.97m.
Xie won the men's 100m ahead of 17-year-old Boonson of Thailand, who clocked a wind-aided 10.02 to secure the silver medal, while his PB of 10.06 in the semifinals equalled the world U18 best and broke the national record.
Elsewhere, Birhanu Balew and Violah Jepchumba achieved a 10,000m double for Bahrain, while their compatriot Kemi Adekoya claimed the women’s 400m title. Asian record-holder Youssef Ahmed Masrahi won the men’s 400m gold for Saudi Arabia.
Vincent Wu for World Athletics