Ikee, Sun star in Asian Games rehearsal for 2020 Olympics
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Japan and China finished all square in the swimming gold medal tally at the Asian Games in a key dress rehearsal for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
China needed to win Friday’s last race to tie Japan on 19 golds in the pool and they did it, pinching the men’s 4×100-metre medley relay by four-hundredths of a second in 3 minutes and 29.99 seconds.
China’s world champion backstroker Xu Jiayu picked up his fifth gold medal, only the second male swimmer to win five at a single Asian Games, when he swam the lead-off leg in the relay. But he was still outshone for the top individual honors of the meet.
That went to the Japanese teenager Rikako Ikee, whose performances with six gold medals and eight overall this week suggest she may be one of the host-nation’s biggest drawcards at the Tokyo Olympics.
No other woman in any sport has ever accrued more than five medals at a single Asian Games. The only competitor to have won more than her is North Korean shooter So Gin Man.
So won seven golds at the 1982 Asian Games and eight medals overall. Ikee fell one short of So’s golden tally but matched his overall medal haul, and did it the hard way.
Showing no signs of giving up despite racing in high-pressure sprints every day, Ikee saved her best for last with a victory in the 50 freestyle final in 24.53, an Asian Games record.
China’s Liu Xiang, who broke the 50 backstroke world record a few days earlier, went stroke for stroke with Ikee down the entire length only to touch a fraction later in 24.60.
“I really hate losing,” Ikee said. “I think it was just my willpower that helped me win.
“I was really hurting in the last few meters but I just concentrated on the touch and luckily I got there first, but I used up all my energy I had.”
Yasuhiro Koseki completed the men’s breaststroke treble for Japan when he won the 50 in 27.07. And although the two region’s sporting superpowers finished level on swimming golds, Japan won more overall medals in the pool than China, 52-50.
The next closest countries were Singapore and South Korea, who managed six each. Joseph Schooling, the Olympic 100 butterfly champion, won his country’s two golds. South Korea picked up its first swimming gold in Jakarta when Kim Seo-yeong took out the women’s 200 individual medley.
Sun Yang and Wang Jianjiahe, China’s unstoppable freestylers, each finished with four golds after winning their last events.
Just 16, Wang added the 400 to her earlier victories in the 800, 1,500 and 4×200 relay. Sun, the former world swimmer of the year, won the 1,500 in 14:58.53, slow by his standards, but still a significant win as it saw him complete an unprecedented sweep of the 200, 400, 800 and 1,500 events.
“This is my third straight 1,500-meter freestyle gold medal at the Asian Games, which means 12 years. It is so difficult to achieve that,” Sun said. “I hope the four gold and two silver medals I won here would become an inspiration for me to work harder, because I want to achieve even better results in the future.
“To be honest, the pressure on me before the races was huge. But I managed to cope with it and held on till the end.”
Sun said he was content with his six medals, including two in relays, and “the achievement here would definitely be a boost to my future races.”
The three-time Olympic champion Sun offered to help the team out in the relays even though it took the edge of his preferred distance races.
“If you participate in multiple events, there is more responsibility on your shoulders. I participated in many events to be a role model for young athletes,” he said. “The competition between China and Japan is not over. It will last till the 2020 Olympics.
“We must learn the lessons and avoid the mistakes from these games.”