HANGZHOU: Teen sensation Pan Zhanle swam a freestyle leg at world record pace to drive China to the men’s 4x100 metres medley relay gold at the Asian Games on Tuesday after the hosts claimed the first title at eSports’ official debut in the multi-sport event.
Two nights after becoming the first Asian swimmer to break the 47 seconds barrier in the 100 metres freestyle, 19-year-old Pan clocked an incredible 46.65 as China threatened the United States’ world record.
Pan’s time was 0.21 seconds faster than the 100m world record held by another 19-year-old wunderkind, Romanian David Popovici.
With world champion Qin Haiyang swimming the breaststroke leg in 57.63 seconds — faster than the Asian record — China won in three minutes 27.01 seconds, just outside the US world record of 3:26.78 from the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
“We thought we would have to wait until next year to come close to the world record, so tonight we put in a really good performance,” said Qin, who owns the 50, 100 and 200 breaststroke world titles. “There must be a higher goal. Our goal has always been to win the gold medal at the Paris Olympics next year.”
China have ruled the Hangzhou pool — and the Games in general. Olympic bronze medallist Li Bingjie won the women’s 400m freestyle to add to the medal haul.
However, Hong Kong’s Siobhan Haughey has been a bulwark of resistance to China’s dominance.
The former British colony’s first Olympic swimming medallist stormed to victory in the blue riband 100m freestyle with an Asian record swim of 52.17 seconds, a day after taking the 200 title.
“I haven’t swum a [personal] best time since Tokyo,” said 25-year-old Haughey, who took the 100 and 200 silvers at the Olympics. “It just proves that I’m not at my peak yet.”
China took four of the six golds on the night. The other went to Tomoru Honda, who stunned exhausted Japanese team-mate Daiya Seto in the 400m medley.
CHINESE GAMERS RULE
Gaming is making its debut as a medal event in Hangzhou in what is seen as a major step towards Olympic status one day.
Audiences of overwhelmingly young spectators have packed out the 4,500-capacity Hangzhou Esports Center in the hope of catching one of their heroes, especially South Korea’s Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok.
He will lead the Koreans in League of Legends — and controversially earn an exemption from military service if they win gold.
Medals are up for grabs in seven gaming titles, with China grabbing the first gold when they defeated Malaysia in the final of smartphone game Arena of Valor. Malaysia take home silver and Thailand bronze
“The audience who loves eSports and the veterans in the eSports industry have been looking forward to this for a long time,” China’s captain Luo Siyuan said after his team’s historic victory. “I believe that eSports will develop more and more in the future.”
Underlining just how popular eSports is at the Games, it is the only competition in Hangzhou where tickets were allocated through an initial online lottery.
China’s place in the Games record books helped the home nation stretch their lead atop the medals table with golds in their usual strengths of gymnastics, table tennis and shooting to increase their overall tally to 53 at the end of three days of action.
They are way ahead of South Korea (14 golds), Japan (eight) and Uzbekistan and Hong Kong (both five).
China’s all-powerful table tennis squad swept past rivals Japan 3-0 in the women’s team final. They also claimed men’s team gold over South Korea by the same scoreline.
In artistic gymnastics, home favourite and twice world champion Zhang Boheng grabbed his second gold, adding the all-around individual title to his men’s team triumph on Sunday.
Unbeaten in every rotation, Zhang stuck the landing in the horizontal bar to finish with a total score of 89.299, over two points clear of Japan’s runner-up Takeru Kitazono.
But China were dethroned by Japan in the men’s team sprint at the Chun’an Jieshou Sports Centre Velodrome on the first day of action on the cycling track.
Japanese rider Yoshitaku Nagasako said his team thrived on the partisan crowd. “When I heard ‘China’ I just thought ‘Japan’. So the crowd was amazing,” he said. “I’m really proud to win this one.”
China’s women made no mistake in their team sprint final, beating South Korea to the title.
In other action, Hong Kong retained their men’s rugby sevens title when they beat South Korea 14-7 in the final, as hosts China won the women’s gold.
The Games had a royal touch when Thailand’s Princess Sirivannavari Mahidol rode in on a horse named ‘Es Fangar’s Samba King’ in the dressage team event.
With Thailand finishing fifth — behind gold-winning India — the 36-year-old daughter of King Vajiralongkorn was unable to add a medal to the crown jewels
“Luckily our father is supporting us,” said the princess, who played badminton at the 2006 Asian Games and competed in equestrian at the 2014 edition. “He knows that what drives my heart is horses and badminton.”
Published in Dawn, September 27th, 2023