Two fresh faces and two experienced stars cornered the opening day’s glory, as the athletics events in the 14th Asian Games got off to a start at the main stadium here on Monday.
The 22-year-old Saudi Arabian, Moukhled Al-Otaibi brought off quite a stunner in winning the 10,000m gold, ahead of the Qatari veteran Ahmed Ibrahim Warsama and the Japanese favourite, Tomoo Tsubota. Infield, India’s Anju B. George underlined her potential and growing stature with a 6.53 golden leap in the women’s long jump contest. Both were making their Asian Games debuts and captured their first major international titles in the process.
On the other side of the spectrum were two experienced stars. Korean Lee Young-Sun, all of 26 years, not such a hot favourite, and yet good enough to retain the javelin crown she had won four years ago in Bangkok. Ten years her senior, Kazakhstan's veteran walker Valeriy Borissov, took the 20km walk gold.
The men’s 10,000 metres held the attention on the track in a thinly laid-out afternoon programme. The man to beat seemed to be Japan's Tomoo Tsubota, while Qatari Ahmed Ibrahim Warsama also possessed the experience and the credentials to pull off a win.
Yet as events turned out Tsubota finished seventh, after having kept close to the leading bunch for the better part of the race which was run in pleasant weather, while Warsama took the silver, just as he had done in Bangkok in 1998.
Al-Otaibi’s best achievement among seniors till now had been his fourth place at 5000m at the Asian Championships in Colombo, in August. As such, in today's race Warsama seemed to be more bothered about Bahrain’s Abdulhak Zakaria, who had claimed the 5000 metres silver in Colombo. Zakaria’s change of pace after about 7000 metres, certainly upset the Qatari and the rest, but soon after the field was back tagging along with him.
Apart from Al-Otaibi, Saudi Arabia also had a man staging a comeback. Olayan Sultan Al-Qahtani had been absent from the continental level for three years and despite finishing fourth today, looked capable of getting a medal for most of the race.
Warsama’s plan was to hang onto the leading bunch and trust his `kick’ from about 250 metres to go. However, in the end he was late applying his sprint for home, and Al-Otaibi got the jump on him 200 metres out, just as the Qatari was making his way past Zakaria, after some jostling near the bend.
Try as he might, Warsama could not catch up with Al-Otaibi, who ran away from him down the home straight, looking back twice and blowing kisses towards his team-mates. The Saudi Arabian clocked 28 minutes 41.89 seconds. Warsama’s silver came in 28:43.53, while Zakaria had the bronze in 28:46.11.
That Japan finished without a medal in the distance event was a shock. Just above Tsubota was Atsushi Satoh, who had done all the front-running before being blown away when the `kickers’ began their act.
India’s Anju George had been in the news since her long jump bronze medal at the Manchester Commonwealth Games (6.49). On her return home, feted and showered with cash incentives, she had touched her best for the season in the national championships in Delhi last month, a leap of 6.74. That mark equalled her national record set last year and it also happened to be the best in Asia this season. Quite naturally, Anju George was a gold medal favourite by the time she left her shores for Korea.
Though she won the women's long jump today, George was not too happy with her performance of 6.53 which came on her fifth jump. The whole competition, in fact, fell below expectations. The winds were swirling and there was a chill in the air. George came up with a 6.45 for starters, and that put the pressure on Kazakhstan’s Yelena Kashcheyeva and Japanese Maho Hanaoka, the two competitors capable of challenging Anju.
Kashcheyeva, easily the best long jumper from the region this year, could not go beyond 6.30 metres, while Hanaoka took the silver with 6.47 metres on her fifth jump, after the Indian had registered 6.53. Though Filipino Elmira Gabito also had a 6.30 attempt, Kashcheyeva was given the bronze since she had another 6.30 as her second best. By contrast, the Filipino had registered five centimetres less for her second best effort.
"I give full credit to my husband and coach," said Anju George as she talked about the contest after being greeted by Indian officials including AAA President, Suresh Kalmadi and the IOC member and Olympic Council of Asia Secretary-General, Randhir Singh.
South Korea's Lee Young-Sun started with a 58.87, a national record, and that turned out to be the winning mark in the women’s javelin. From an opening 58.30, Chinese Liang Lili stretched herself for a 58.77 on her third attempt but that was all she could do. Another Chinese, Hao Xiaoyan had an opening throw of 58.29 for the bronze. Both Liang Lili and Japanese Takako Miyake had gone over 60 metres this season, while Young-Sun had set her previous national record of 58.17 in May.
Valeriy Borissov ’s 20km walk gold came in 1:24:20 after a stiff fight with the Chinese Yu Chaohong. Japanese Satoshi Yanagisawa won the bronze. The Kazakh had finished with the silver medal last time in 1998.
The Asian Games record was bettered in the men’s 400 metres hurdles heats as the Asian champion, Faraj Mubarak Al-Nubi (48.76), scored over Haadi Somaily of Saudi Arabia and Japan’s Dai Tamesue. How the top three favourites - not necessarily in the order in which they finished today - were put in the same heat will remain a mystery, but needless to say we have had a sneak preview of the final. Maybe the picture will change when the real tussle comes up.
The favourites including Japanese Nobuhara Asahara, Chen Haijian of China, Gennadiy Chernovol of Kazakhstan and Abdul Jamal Al-Saffar of Saudi Arabia went through to the final of the men’s 100 metres.
There were also no mishaps in the men’s 400 metres heats as the top men including Fawzi Al-Shammari of Kuwait, Hamdan Al-Bishi of Saudi Arabia and Sugath Tillakeratne of Sri Lanka qualified for the semifinals.
From an IAAF Correspondent
Selected Results -
Men: 10,000m: 1. Moukhled Al-Otaibi (Ksa) 28:41.89, 2. Ahmed Ibrahim Hashim Warsama (Qat) 28:43.53, 3. Abdulhak Zakaria (Brn) 28:46.11.
20km walk: 1. Valeriy Borisov (Kaz) 1:24:20, 2. Yu Cahohong (Chn) 1:24.23, 3. Satoshi Yanagisawa (Jpn) 1:25.33.
Women: Long jump: 1. Anju B. George (Ind) 6.53m, 2. Maho Hanaoka (Jpn) 6.47, 3. Yelena Kashcheyeva (Kaz) 6.30.
Javelin: 1. Lee Young Sun (Kor) 58.87m, 2. Liang Lili (Chn) 58.77, 3. Ha Xiaoyan (Chn) 58.29.