Bangkok, ThailandAt the 10th Asian Junior Athletic Championships in Bangkok this week, the Chinese dominated as usual, repeating their strong showing at the (senior) Asian Games in Busan just weeks earlier.
The Japanese juniors, coming here in the wake of their seniors’ disappointing showing in Busan, where they won only two gold medals, showed they will be a force in this region for years to come.
The South Koreans, who couldn’t capitalize on home ground advantage at the Asiad, had another average meet in Bangkok. The Indians, whose outstanding performances in Busan created a stir, showed their juniors also to be a force to be reckoned with, though they didn’t enjoy the level of success their seniors did in Busan. Finally, emerging countries like Qatar and Kuwait demonstrated in no uncertain terms that their athletes can be counted on, not only to win medals but also to deliver quality “record breaking” performances.
In terms of the medal count, the Chinese were way ahead of the rest. They won 22 gold medals compared to closest rivals Japan (9) and Qatar (6). The Chinese women, in particular, proved most dominant. In all, they won 17 gold medals. But in terms of performances of the highest quality, few came from them compared to previous meets.
For instance, the times clocked by their distance runners were nothing like track watchers have come to expect from the country that has produced stars like Wang Junxia and Qu Yunxia. In winning the 3,000m, Zhang Yuhong, who also won the 10,000m, managed 9:36.53 – a time that was about a minute slower than the Asian junior mark of Ma Ningning set way back in 1993.
Then in the 400m hurdles, winner Xiao Hongfan clocked a modest 59.28 compared to the Asian junior mark of 54.93, established by compatriot Li Rui in 1997. Also in the 800m, Ji Siyu won in 2:08.04 as opposed to the Asian junior record of 1:57.18 set by Wang Yuan in 1993. Only athletes like Xu Shaoyang (62.54m in the Discus) and Zhang Wenxiu (66.10m in the Hammer throw) brought back memories of China’s overwhelming power in previous meets.
The Chinese men – traditionally less impressive than their female team mates in international contests - won considerably less events, but their performances were of a fairly high standard. For example, Gu Jun Jie set a new meet record in the triple jump (16.73m).
And, as icing on the cake, the Chinese actually won the meet’s most coveted gold – the men’s century sprint. There Liu Dapeng (10.74 secs) beat the highly-fancied Japanese Masaya Aikawa (10.83), with Indonesia’s new find Suryo Agung Wibowo an impressive second (10.81). One of the hot favourites for the race Sugasawa Takahiro, credited with a PB of 10.42, managed only fifth in 10.83.
This disappointment aside, Japan can hardly be dissatisfied with its performances here. Its men – traditionally stronger than its ladies in international competitions – did well to bag most of its gold medals. The 4x100m relay quartet of Masaya Aikawa, Shinji Takahira, Hiroyuki Noda and Yasutaka Matsunaga broke the old Asian junior mark held by China (39.47 secs) with their effort of 39.30 secs.
The 4x400m relay team of Shinji, Hiroyuki, Yuki Yamaguchi and Yushi Nakata also did well to bag the gold. Yuki also continued Japan’s traditional strength in the 400m with a well-deserved win (47.11 secs) over Sri Lanka’s Manoi P.W.Pushpakumara (47.38) and India’s Sudam Marandi (47.93).
Though Qatar and Kuwait bagged less gold medals than the Chinese and Japanese, they may be said to have stood out most in terms of the quality of their performances. The Qataris, for instance, may not have the depth of the Chinese or Japanese but they sure gave the meet some of its best moments. For instance, Adam Abdu Adam Ali won the highly competitive 800m in a record-time of 1:47.17, just ahead of Iran's Sagad Moradi and India's Ghamanda Ram.
Not to be outdone, his team mate Khaled Habash M.Al-Suwaidi produced a distance of 63.17m in the Discus. Khaled was outstanding in the Shot Put too, in which he won the gold with 20.29m. Kuwait’s Zenkawi Ali shone in the Hammer throw with his distance of 74.93m.**
**NB. these three marks were the inaugural meet records as the weight of implements has changed - Discus 1.75kg; Shot and Hammer 6kg.
Hosts Thailand had an excellent chance of capturing the women's 4x100m relay gold. They led until 30 metres after the last baton change between Mapa Munlika and Sanrat Nongnuch, but a fast Chinese finisher, Zhu Juanhong, outsprinted Sanrat and went on to break the tape first in 45.05, a performance which fell only 0.30sec outside their own Asian Junior and Championships records.
In all, it was a good meet for the some 700 junior athletes, including those that came away with no medals. India’s Sinimol Poulose just missed out the honours in both the 800m and 1,500m. “I am disappointed but I am confident that, with more training, I will improve further,” she said.
The Chinese may have dominated but it would appear they didn’t field some of their very best. In the men’s 110m hurdles, for instance, Liu Xiang, the World junior record holder, wasn’t in the line up. Neither was discus thrower Wu Tao. Both have made a successful transition to the senior ranks with gold medals at the recent Asian Games in Busan. When asked about his performance, Zhang Yuhao, who won the silver in the discus here in Bangkok, said modestly, “Only OK. Wu Tao is much better than me.” Which raises a fascinating question – would the medal tally have changed much if the likes of Liu and Wu had been there?
Chua Chong Jin for the IAAF