HANGZHOU: Hosts China racked up a record 201 gold medals before the curtain came down on two weeks of tears and triumphs at the Asian Games in Hangzhou today.
The 19th and biggest Asiad concluded at the 80,000-capacity Olympic stadium with China handing over to Japan for 2026 at a celebratory closing ceremony.
Dancers holding lit-up props fanned out towards the audience in a performance evoking ocean waves while the words “love Asia” were projected on a big screen.
The Games are normally every four years but Nagoya-Aichi has a shorter run-up because Hangzhou was postponed by a year due to China’s now-abandoned zero-Covid measures.
Speaking at the closing ceremony, a spectator surnamed Xia told AFP that the Games made her feel “very moved and proud”.
“The Chinese team did great,” she said.
Taiwan’s Gu Shiau-shuang won the final gold earlier in the day when she successfully defended her title in women’s karate.
But it was the hosts who dominated over much of the fortnight, their 201 golds beating the 199 they collected at Guangzhou 2010.
Their exploits across the 40 sports at the Games reinforced China’s status as Asia’s sporting superpower, topping the medals table at every Asian Games since 1982.
The competition will be much stiffer in less than 10 months at the Paris Olympics.
With about 12,000 athletes, this was the biggest Asian Games in history and had more competitors than the Olympics.
The Games were China’s chance to show it was business as usual following the Covid policies that largely sealed its borders.
Crowds waving mini Chinese flags regularly filled the 54 venues.
“Technically we have had one of the finest Asian Games ever,” said Olympic Council of Asia acting director-general Vinod Kumar Tiwari.
“We have had 97 Games records, 26 Asian records and 13 world records, so the standard has been very, very high and we are very happy with it.”
World records tumbled in shooting and weightlifting, with North Korea celebrating their return to the global sporting arena after four years away by hoovering up six weightlifting golds.
But the hoisting of their flag – in contravention of World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) sanctions – was a running controversy in Hangzhou that was never resolved.
North Korea’s athletes, wearing dazzling white blazers, again waved their flag at the closing ceremony.
The scourge of doping was never far away.
Seven athletes failed drugs tests and more will likely be announced in the coming days.
The Olympics on the horizon added extra spice. Nine sports, among them boxing, break dancing and tennis, served as qualifiers for Paris.
Breakdancing was appearing at the Asian Games for the first time, ahead of its Olympic bow, while eSports was a huge hit on its full debut.
Overwhelmingly young spectators packed out the futuristic 4,500-seat eSports arena and tickets were the most highly sought after at the Games.
Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, who was followed by frenzied crowds from the moment he landed, won gold with South Korea in League of Legends – and earned an exemption from military service back home.
Chinese swimmers Zhang Yufei and Qin Haiyang were named the Games MVPs and it was in the pool where the hosts were especially impressive.
They won 28 swimming golds – Zhang and Qin accounting for 11 of them – to send a warning of what they can do in Paris.
Japan were a distant second in the final medals table with 52 golds, down from 75 at Jakarta in 2018, and South Korea third on 42.
India’s pinpoint archers and shooters helped propel the country to 107 medals, their best showing ever.
“If you’re analysing why we won less medals than last time, China dominated and India did surprisingly well,” said Japan’s chef de mission Mitsugi Ogata.
The small contingent of women in the Afghan team did not win a medal but their mere presence sent a defiant message to their country’s ruling Taliban government.