JAKARTA: Japan’s golden girl Rikako Ikee created a slice of history while Singapore’s Olympic swim champion Joseph Schooling edged a nail-biter in the 50m butterfly at the Asian Games on Thursday.
The irrepressible Ikee propelled Japan to victory in the women’s 4x100m medley relay in Jakarta to equal countrywoman Yoshimi Nishigawa’s five gold medals at the regional multi-sport event in both 1970 and 1974.
“I feel a bit broken and my body aches,” said Ikee, who can win a record sixth gold in Friday’s 50m freestyle. “But the joy I get from winning blows all those thoughts away.
“I’m proud to be an Asian champion, but I want to achieve more,” she added. “I don’t feel pressure — I thrive on it.”
Japanese swimmers finished the evening with 17 gold medals, one ahead of China as the fierce rivals head into the final day like a pair of punch-drunk boxers unable to land the killer blow.
Ikee, who has emerged as one of Japan’s brightest hopes for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, crushed the third leg, the butterfly, as the favourites stormed to gold in a new Games record of 3:54.73.
Drama followed as China were disqualified for an illegal changeover, while South Korea were also thrown out, gifting silver and bronze to Hong Kong and Singapore.
But once again the magic came from Ikee, who has also scooped gold in the 50m fly, 100m fly, 100m free and the 4x100m free in a sparkling week.
Also pocketing two silver medals, the 18-year-old matched countryman Kosuke Hagino’s haul of seven at a breakout 2014 Asian Games.
“It’s been a real battle with China,” said Ikee. “I just want to end on a high note tomorrow.”
Schooling, who shocked Michael Phelps in the 100m fly in Rio two years ago to capture Singapore’s first Olympic title in any sport, beat China’s Wang Peng by a fingertip to win the one-lap final in 23.61.
“It was very, very, very close,” said the 23-year-old, who retained his Asian 100m title earlier in the week with a little more to spare.
“I didn’t know who won until the end. I had to look up at the board — I almost couldn’t believe it actually. It feels great, it was another huge week.”
China’s Xu Jiayu completed the backstroke treble, thrashing Ryosuke Irie in the 200m final for his fourth gold medal of the meet.
“My first target was the backstroke treble — job done,” said Xu, who clocked 1:53.99.
“Now I’ll try to make it five out of five in the medley relay.”
Japan’s Shinri Shioura won the men’s 100m freestyle in 48.71, pipping countryman Katsumi Nakamura to go one better than at the 2014 Asian Games.
China’s Yu Hexin, winner of the 50m free, faded badly to finish with bronze.
Japan’s Satomi Suzuki retained her title in the women’s 50m breaststroke in a Games record 30.83 to complete the 50-100m double, with Singapore’s Ho Ru En Roanne a distant second.
Wang Jianjiahe smashed the women’s 800m freestyle final in 8:18.55 — almost 10 seconds clear of close friend Li Bingjie in a battle of Chinese 16-year-olds with bright futures in the sport.