Ye Shiwen of China competes in the women's 200m breaststroke final at the Hangzhou Asian Games, east China's Zhejiang province, Sept 28, 2023. (PHOTO / XINHUA)
HANGZHOU — As the Hangzhou Asian Games reached its halfway point on Saturday, China continues to assert its supremacy, while the world watches as new talents rise to prominence. Athletes from across Asia have shown mutual admiration and camaraderie on this extraordinary journey.
China has maintained its stronghold atop the medal standings, amassing an impressive 111 gold medals as of Saturday evening, way ahead of Japan on 28 and South Korea's 27. The host nation achieved a series of remarkable milestones, breaking two world records, seven Asian records and 16 Asian Games records.
The standout feature of China's performance has been the harmonious blend of seasoned veterans and emerging talents.
Nine years after her triumph at the 2012 London Olympics, swimmer Ye Shiwen returned to the Asiad stage, capturing victory in the women's 200m breaststroke.
Zhang Liang of China competes in the men's single sculls final at the Hangzhou Asian Games, Sept 25, 2023. (PHOTO / XINHUA)
"Winning this gold medal has indeed boosted my confidence. I used to think that 2012 was my peak, but now I believe there might be another peak ahead," Ye reflected.
For rowing veteran Zhang Liang, at the age of 36, who secured gold for the fourth consecutive Asian Games, the driving force to excel has always been the aspiration to compete in one more Olympic Games.
"I believe my dream is still on the horizon, and I must continue to strive," Zhang said.
Under the inspiration of more experienced competitors, a new generation of young talents emerged, continuing the nation's sporting excellence.
17-year-old shooter Huang Yuting claimed three shooting gold medals, displaying remarkable composure, while 18-year-old Yuan Liying and her teammates consecutively shattered Asian Games and Asian records in the women's team sprint qualifiers and track cycling finals.
Huang Yuting of China competes in the 10m air rifle mixed team final at the Hangzhou Asian Games, Sept 26, 2023. (PHOTO / XINHUA)
Zhang Xin, Secretary General of China's delegation, expressed confidence that China would surpass its 132 gold medals at Jakarta 2018 by a substantial margin.
"We expect the total gold medal count for us to exceed 180," he affirmed.
Love without bounds
Love for the Asiad knows no bounds, and that enduring spirit was exemplified by 48-year-old Oksana Chusovitina on the gymnastics stage.
Though she narrowly missed out on a medal by a mere 0.15 points, Chusovitina remained the center of attention. Her legendary career spans over three decades, and she was competing alongside athletes younger than her own son.
Despite her sense of regret at missing the podium, she has already shifted her focus to further improvements, declaring, "Before the Olympic qualification competitions, I need to work on certain aspects."
60-year-old Abdullah Alrashidi of Kuwait elevated his tally of Asian Games medals to an impressive 10 in Hangzhou, while matching the world record in the men's skeet final.
Gold medalist Abdullah Alrashidi of Kuwait attends the awarding ceremony for the men's skeet at the Hangzhou Asian Games, Sept 27, 2023. (PHOTO / XINHUA)
"In Kuwait, we face significant limitations in training conditions, but I possess innate talent, coupled with experience and relentless training, which has brought me to this level," he commented.
As the tides of change surge, each major event witnesses the emergence of new talents. In the men's 10-meter air rifle final, 18-year-old Sheng Lihao secured the gold medal with a world record-breaking performance that was exemplified by his calm and composed demeanor.
By contrast, 13-year-old Cui Chenxi, who clinched gold in skateboarding, exuded youthful exuberance.
Since becoming an event at the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games without age restrictions, skateboarding has gained a reputation as the "youngest sport", attracting more young enthusiasts to embrace the Asiad.
"Skateboarding represents happiness, excitement and challenge," Cui said.
More than a game
The true essence of competition at the Asiad lies not just in the pursuit of victory, but in the profound respect, encouragement and camaraderie on these extraordinary journeys.
Faranak Partoazar of Iran celebrates after the women's mountain bike cross country Olympic at the Hangzhou Asian Games, Sept 25, 2023. (PHOTO / XINHUA)
After Iran's Faranak Partoazar captured a historic bronze medal in the women's mountain bike competition, she said she was willing to pave the way for younger generations.
"I know how important dreams are for females and children, and this path is not easy. I hope to inspire them, which is far more important than standing on the podium."
Many athletes also shared a profound mutual admiration in life's grander scheme.
A devastating leukaemia diagnosis once threatened to halt Rikako Ikee's promising career, after the Japanese had dazzled the world by clinching an astonishing six gold medals at Jakarta 2018.
Unyielding, Ikee embarked on a courageous battle against the illness and made a triumphant return to the pool. Looking at how she proudly clutched her bronze medal in the women's 50m butterfly, China's winner Zhang Yufei could not contain her emotions and embraced her in a heartfelt moment of solidarity.
Rikako Ikee (left) of Japan shakes hands with China's Zhang Yufei after the women's 50m butterfly final at the Hangzhou Asian Games, Sept 29, 2023. (PHOTO / XINHUA)
Despite the formidable challenge posed by strong rivals, some athletes saw their participation as an opportunity for growth and learning, showcasing the essence of sportsmanship.
In the women's foil team quarterfinal, a lopsided 45-10 loss to Japan did little to dampen Nepal's spirits. Fencing is an emerging sport in Nepal, and participating on such a prestigious stage was a significant achievement in itself.
"Competing against so many talented athletes, especially Olympians, has allowed me to gain invaluable experience, and I am incredibly proud of that," said Nepal's Mandira Thapa.
HONG KONG NEWS