AN “extraordinary” Asian Games on Saturday closed after 15 days of thrills and spills that saw China reinforce its sporting credentials and Japan slip further behind.
On the last day of action at an Asiad unprecedented in size and scale, China fittingly won the last gold at stake when their women’s volleyball team toppled South Korea 3-2 in a thrilling finale.
Zhou Chunxiu earlier added yet more gold to their glittering haul by defending her women’s marathon title with teammate Zhu Xiaolin taking silver and North Korea’s Kim Kum-Ok the bronze.
South Korea’s Ji Youngjun won the men’s race.
The volleyball success pushed the host nation’s final gold tally to 199 and its total medals to a whopping 416 -- both Asian Games records.
While China basked in its most successful Games ever, its arch-rival Japan performed worse then expected, winning just 48 titles for an overall 216 total medals.
It left them well behind South Korea, who claimed 76 gold and 232 medals altogether.
“The reason why we have been largely successful is related to the rise of our nation, along with the constant rise of China’s economy and our comprehensive national strength,” China’s vice minister of sport Duan Shijie said.
“This medal haul again can represent a major achievement in our preparations for the London Olympic Games.”
While the traditional big three dominated, 36 of the 45 countries and territories taking part managed to climb the podium, with some notable successes.
Macau won its first gold medal ever through Jia Rui in the men’s wushu and Bangladesh matched that breakthrough, claiming the men’s cricket title in an exciting victory over Afghanistan.
Oman and Nepal propped up the table with a single bronze each, but there was no joy for minnows like East Timor, Maldives, Turkmenistan, Brunei and Cambodia.
Cambodia’s premier long distance runner,Hem Bunting pulled out of Friday’s 10,000m race and then failed to finish in Saturday’s marathon. Meanwhile, Try Sothavy was ousted in the first round of the women’s freestyle 63kg wrestling event on Friday, losing 3-0 to Mio Nishimaki of Japan.
There were three world records (two in weightlifting and one in archery) as well as 103 Asian records.
In all, 12,600 drug tests were carried out with just two failures –Uzbek wrestler Jakhongir Muminov and Uzbek judoka Shokir Muminov.
The Games were overshadowed somewhat by the North Korean artillery attack on South Korea, as well as a diplomatic dispute over the disqualification of a Taiwan taekwondo fighter.
There were also early problems with empty stadiums, complaints about the long distances to venues and heavy security, but Olympic Council of Asia president Sheikh Ahmed Al Fahad Al Sabah had nothing but praise.
“Guangzhou looked to challenge Beijing [Olympics] and I think they did it successfully,” said the Kuwaiti.
“Some Olympic committees and OCA colleagues say there is the same level compared to Beijing or even better. Athletes in the village say facilities were even better than Beijing.
“Guangzhou made a great a success. I would say they were an extraordinary Games.”
Like the widely-acclaimed curtain-raiser, the closing ceremony was held not inside a stadium but on a boat-shaped island in the middle of the Pearl River, which meanders through the heart of China’s third-largest city.
This time it celebrated Asia’s diverse cultures, with music and dance from India, Lebanon, Japan, Kazakhstan and Mongolia.
Korean pop sensation Rain performed as part of the handover to the 2014 host, Incheon.
AFP & ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DAN RILEY