Previews19 Nov 2010

Home team ready to shine in Guangzhou - Asian Games Preview


Liu Xiang on his way to victory in Hong Kong where he secured his third East Asian Games title (© AFP / Getty Images)

The Chinese at home in athletics - that is a thought that sends shivers down the spine of the rest of Asia.  If one were to go by the trend so far in the Asian Games, with the host running away to a mammoth lead in the medals tally at the end of the first week, the Chinese look unlikely to yield any ground in track and field at the 16th Edition of these Games.

Chinese athletes won 29 gold medals in athletics when the country last hosted the Asian Games, in Beijing in 1990. Some of China’s overwhelming dominance might have been eroded a little over the next 20 years, but it is still way above the rest of Asia, and has already made its mark at the world level.

China took 31 medals including 14 gold in the previous edition in Doha in 2006. At the Asian Championships in Guangzhou last year, the Chinese once again asserted their supremacy at home, with a tally of 47 medals including 18 gold.

Going into these Games, the Japanese look better off in terms of top marks in the continent for the season. They lead in 11 of the men’s 24 events and eight of the women’s 23 events that would be up for grabs from 21 through 27 November.

The Chinese, on the other hand, lead only in three of the men’s events and six of the women’s events. But make no mistake - the Chinese would be better prepared to tackle this end-of-the-season meet than any other team in the fray.

Spotlight returns to Liu Xiang

As was the case last year in the Asian Championships, at the Guangdong Olympic Stadium - the action shifts to Aoti complex stadium now - the fans are going to come in hordes when Liu Xiang performs on 24 November. The former World and Olympic champion and former World record holder in the 110m Hurdles has had a comeback last year after that tearful exit from the Beijing Olympics because of a painful Achilles injury.

He won comfortably against teammate Shi Dongpeng at the Asian Championships but suffered his first defeat against his countryman in Shanghai in May this year, his only outdoor competition this season. In fact he came in third (13.40) on that occasion behind American David Oliver (12.99) and Shi Dongpeng (13.39).

Recent reports suggest Liu Xiang was fully fit and raring to go. The Chinese would love to see their favourite win more than anyone else, even though the other strong contender in the field is none other than another Chinese!

Athletics provides the largest chunk of medals in these 42-sport Games and there are expectations of some rousing contests with almost all the top-ranked athletes of Asia, barring Japanese hammer thrower Koji Murofushi, Qatari middle distance runner and World 3000m Steeplechase record holder Saif Saeed Shaheen, and Japanese pole vaulter Daichi Sawano, expected to figure in the startlists.

Japan strong in the sprints

The Japanese showed last year at the Asian Championships that they can cope with a late-season meet almost as well as anyone else in the continent, with a haul of 22 medals including a dozen gold. Normally, they find the going tough in a late-season championship, though they had done reasonably well in Doha also in December, with 27 medals, even if with only five gold medals.

Season leaders in Asia Masashi Eriguchi (10.16), Kenji Fujimitsu (20.38) and Yuzo Kanemaru (45.55) look set to dominate the sprints, though the Chinese and the Qataris should also fancy their chances in the 100m. In the women’s sprints, too, the Japanese are on top, with Chisato Fukushima (11.21 and 22.89) heading the season’s charts.

Kamel and Jamal the middle distance favourites

The middle distance is where the West Asians come in.

No one has better credentials than Youssef Saad Kamel of Bahrain in these Games. He is the World champion in the 1500m and World bronze medallist in the 800m, and defending champion in the two-lap event where he is also a bronze medallist from the 2008 World Indoor Championships.

Kamel’s recent form has, however, not been so convincing. He lost to teammate Bilal Mansoor Ali and Iranian Sajad Moradi in the 1500m of the West Asian Championships in Aleppo, Syria, in September last, coming third while clocking 3:40.58.

Come to think of it, Kamel has not won any race at all this season. And yet, the former Kenyan Gregory Konchellah, son of two-time World champion Billy Konchellah, should be a strong contender if not the outright favourite at least in the metric mile.

Mansoor Ali, the former Kenyan John Yego, has been in good form this season, scoring the 800-1500 double in the West Asian Championships, and finishing third in the 800m in the IAAF / VTB Bank Continental Cup in Split. He heads the Asian lists this season in the 800m with a 1:44.80 at Villeneuve d’Ascq, has three other sub-1:45 marks and is third in the 1500m lists (3:34.98) behind Kamel (3:33.06) and Asian champion Mohamed Othman Shahween of Saudi Arabia (3:34.45).

Maryam Yousuf Jamal brings ‘world class’ to the women’s 1500m. The reigning wWrld champion, who scored the 800m/1500m double at the last Asian Games in Doha, should once again start overwhelming favourite over the longer distance.

She is also entered in the 800m, where she could expect a tough challenge from Indian Tintu Luka, looking to make up for her disappointment in the recent Commonwealth Games, where, in front of 50,000 roaring spectators, she could manage only sixth place, outrun on the back straight by the Olympic 1500m champion Nancy Langat of Kenya.

Talking of world champions, another one, China’s winner of women’s Marathon in Berlin last year, Bai Xue, has been entered in the 10,000m here. She had won untroubled in Guangzhou last year in the Asian Championships, but the going might not be so smooth this time round, with both Japanese, Kayoko Fukushi and Hikari Yoshimoto, capable of putting up a stiff challenge. Then there could be Shitayae Eshete of Bahrain, a former Ethiopian who heads the 5000m this season in Asia, and who took sixth in the Continental Cup in that event.

Rypakova, Barshim the jumpers to watch

From among the medalists in the Continental Cup, Olga Rypakova of Kazakhstan will tower over everyone else in women’s Triple Jump. She had won in Split with an Area record of 15.25m and she is entered here in the Long Jump also, having taken the bronze in Split.

The long jump winner in Split, Yulia Tarasova, has withdrawn from that competition, probably in an effort to concentrate on the Heptathlon where she should be the clear favourite. In fact Tarasova has not had a Heptathlon competition this season and from among the ordinary scores on top of the lists is the 5670 tally by Yuki Nakata of Japan. Rypakova will not be defending her title while 2007 Asian winner Irina Naumenko has taken a break because of motherhood.

The exciting young prospect in the High Jump, Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim, who won the Asian junior title with a 2.31m clearance, will battle out with another young Qatari, Rashid Ahmed Al-Mannai, who won the Continental Cup gold (2.28m).

Chinese Huang Haiqiang has not really live up to his potential shown while winning the World Junior title (2.32m) in Beijing in 2006 and it is time for him to set the record straight against these two talented Qataris.

Li Yanfeng and Song Aimin lead Chinese hopes in the throws

In the absence of Murofushi, Tajikstan’s Dilshod Nazarov, silver winner in Split, should fancy his chances in the Hammer Throw, with Mohammed Ali Al-Zankawi of Kuwait, bronze winner in Split, also in contention.

Chinese Li Yanfeng, winner of women’s Discus Throw gold in Split, will have her task cut out, against defending champion and teammate Song Aimin, one of the most consistent throwers of Asia. Also hoping to stretch her Commonwealth Games success would be Indian Krishna Poonia and her teammate Harwant Kaur.

The Chinese depth in the women’s throws is all too well known and it is to be expected that they will be aiming to sweep the gold medals here.

A dozen defending champions from Doha among women and 17 among men are expected to compete here, and, as in previous years, the Asian Games athletics contests should reflect the true standard in the continent.

By an IAAF Correspondent