LONDON, United Kingdom – China proved they’ve arrived as a genuine Olympic super-power, and both Koreas impressed — but Japan were top of the flops among Asian countries at the London Games.
China may not have repeated their feats of Beijing 2008, when they topped the medals table for the first time, but with 38 golds their presence in the top two, behind the United States, was never in doubt.
South Korea were the only other Asian team in the top 10. North Korea, finishing 20th, had their best Games in 20 years, Hong Kong celebrated cycling bronze and Singapore won their first individual medal in 52 years.
India couldn’t follow Beijing by claiming their second individual gold, but they finished with two silver medals and four bronze — their highest individual total.
Much as expected, China’s divers and badminton and table tennis players missed just two gold medals between them, and their weightlifters hoisted five titles at London’s ExCeL.
But China’s shooters were off-target compared to Beijing, winning only two golds, and their gymnasts dropped from seven victories in 2008 to three on the London apparatus.
China’s track hopes went up in smoke when 110m hurdler Liu Xiang, the 2004 champion, heart-breakingly limped out of the heats for the second Games running with a career-threatening Achilles tendon tear.
But his brave hop down the track to the finish line, symbolic kiss of the last hurdle, and embrace by his waiting competitors, was one of the Games’ most memorable images.
Meanwhile Sun Yang and Ye Shiwen, 16, led China to their best performance in the pool, claiming two wins and a world record each as the team broke through with five titles in one of the Olympics’ top-tier events.
Sun became China’s first male Olympic swimming champion in the 400m freestyle, and then broke the 1500m world record for the second time in a year.
Ye set a new mark in the women’s 400m medley and also won the 200m medley, while Jiao Liuyang won the women’s 200m butterfly. Unproven doping speculation surrounding Ye was angrily dismissed by Sun.
“People think China has so many gold medals because of doping and other substances, but I can tell you it is because of hard work,” said Sun.
“It is all down to training and hard work that we have results. Chinese are not weaker than those in other countries.”
China, South Korea and Indonesia were also embroiled in one of the Games’ worst scandals, when eight badminton players were disqualified for trying to lose group ties to secure easier quarter-finals.
South Korea’s peerless archers, included the legally blind Im Dong-Hyun, hit the bull’s-eye with three out of four gold medals, and their shooters added three more at the Royal Artillery Barracks.
They had two more in judo and two in fencing — but none for Shin A-Lam, whose tearful, hour-long protest over her loss in the women’s epee semis won sympathy and media coverage, but no Olympic medal.
North Korea’s Games made an unpromising start when their women’s footballers were pictured next to the South Korean flag on a stadium big screen, prompting a lengthy protest.
But tiny, 1.52m (five foot) weightlifter Om Yun-Chol put them on the gold trail when he lifted three times his bodyweight to win the 56kg category with a world record-equalling 293kg.
Kim Un-Guk and Rim Jong-Sim also lifted their way to gold at the ExCeL venue, while An Kum-Ae got judo gold on the opening weekend as North Korea matched their best ever haul of four titles at Barcelona 1992.
Japan, who are bidding to host the Games in 2020, had high hopes of emulating their record total of 16 gold medals. But after a near-wipeout in the judo, they ended with just seven.
South Korea rubbed salt into the wound when they beat Japan, their fiercest rivals, 2-0 for men’s football bronze.
South Korea’s Park Jong-Woo celebrated by waving a politically sensitive banner laying claim to an island group claimed by both countries. He was later barred from collecting his medal.
Sarah Lee Wai-Sze pedaled to Hong Kong’s first cycling medal, bronze in the keirin, and China-born Feng Tianwei ended Singapore’s half-century wait for an individual medal with bronze in the women’s table tennis.
Malaysia got their first diving medal after Pandelela Rinong’s bronze in the 10m platform, and there was a wave of sympathy for badminton star Lee Chong Wei, who fell just short of claiming the country’s first gold.
Indonesia won two weightlifting medals, but nothing in badminton for the first time in 20 years, and Thailand had medals in boxing, taekwondo and weightlifting. – Talek Harris, Agence France-Presse
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