JAKARTA: Singapore’s Olympic champion Joseph Schooling brushed aside two years of indifferent form to break the Sino-Japanese duopoly on the Asian Games swimming gold medals with victory in the 100 metres butterfly on Wednesday.
Sun Yang was unable to add to his three Jakarta crowns in the 4x100m freestyle relay and Rikako Ikee, who has won four titles, was similarly frustrated in the mixed 4x100m medley relay to leave China and Japan tied with 14 golds apiece.
Schooling upstaged no less than Michael Phelps to win the butterfly event at the Rio Olympics in 2016 and was desperate to be back in the winners’ circle at a major meet after coming home from last year’s world championships with a bronze.
Hitting the turn with a clear lead over China’s Li Zhuhao, the 23-year-old powered to the finish in 51.04 seconds to retain the title he won as a teenager in Incheon four years ago.
“It’s all about standing up for your country and yourself and trying to get your hand on the wall first, I’m happy,” said Schooling, who later won a bronze in the sprint relay.
“I had some jitters before, but that’s good, it shows I’m taking nothing for granted. The result was good, I’m happy overall. Every gold is special, it has its own story.”
It was back to business as usual after the first race with teenagers Li Bingjie (1.56.74) and Yang Junxuan securing a one-two for China in the women’s 200m freestyle and Japan’s Yasuhiro Koseki winning the men’s 100m breaststroke.
Koseki swam in lane one and held off a late surge from Yan Zibel to hit the wall in 58.86 seconds, completing a 100m-200m breaststroke double and leaving the Chinese with silver ahead of Kazakh defending champion Dmitriy Balandin.
Olympic 200m champion Balandin swept the three breaststroke titles in Incheon but skipped the four-lap race on Tuesday for fear of aggravating an ankle injury.
“I’m happy,” said 23-year-old Balandin, who has suggested he might retire after the Games. “It was a great result for me but my opponents were faster, stronger.”
There was no better luck for the defending champion in the 400m individual medley final when Kosuke Hagino lost his second Asian Games title in matter of days.
Jakarta 200m butterfly champion Daiya Seto kept the title in Japanese hands, starting the freestyle leg with a healthy lead over Hagino and racing to victory in 4:08.79. China’s Wang Shun, who took Hagino’s 200m medley title, won bronze.
China’s Zhang Yufei led all the way to win the women’s 200m butterfly in 2:06.61 ahead of Japanese pair Sachi Mochida and Suzuka Hasegawa.
Natsumi Sakai (59.27) led Anna Konishi to a Japanese one-two in the women’s 100m backstroke to leave China and Japan tied on 13 titles each going into the relays.
Multiple Olympic and world champion Sun lined up in the third leg of the men’s sprint relay but had to settle for a silver as Japan won in 3:12.68.
Koseki backed up from his breaststroke triumph to help Japan’s cause but it was China who took the inaugural Asian Games title in a mixed swimming event in 3:40.45 and Ikee and her team mates took silver.
Sun, who will go for a fourth title in the 1,500m freestyle, now has 12 medals from three editions of the Asian Games, Ikee has six from Jakarta alone with two more events to come.