The Asian Games officially kick off today in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, a year later than planned due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Here are some of the top athletes looking to lay down a marker a year out from the Paris Olympics:
MUTAZ BARSHIM - Athletics, high jump
Well before Barshim claimed Qatar’s first Olympic track and field gold medal at the Tokyo Games - famously shared with Italian Gianmarco Tamberi - the rangy son of Sudanese parents was dominating the Asian Games as a teenager.
Hangzhou will be his second Asian Games in China, having won the event at Guangzhou in 2010 as a 19-year-old and then defending the title four years later at Incheon.
Owner of the second highest jump in history (2.43m), the 32-year-old claimed the world titles at London (2017), Doha (2019) and Eugene (2022). He took bronze in his recent title defence at Budapest despite having an off-night by his lofty standards.
NEERAJ CHOPRA- Athletics, javelin
Chopra ended India’s long wait for an Olympic champion in track and field when he threw 87.58m at the Tokyo Games. He also became India’s second individual Olympic gold medallist, 13 years after Abhinav Bindra won shooting gold at Beijing in 2008.
He proved Tokyo was no fluke by throwing 88.17m in Budapest in August to become India’s first athletics world champion, pipping Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem for the gold.
An officer in the Indian army, 25-year-old Chopra is the reigning Asian Games champion and will battle Nadeem again in his title defence.
QIN HAIYANG- Swimming
China’s Qin stormed to an unprecedented treble in the men’s 50, 100 and 200m breaststroke at July’s world championships in Fukuoka and also set the 200m world record (2:05.48), smashing the previous mark set by Australia’s Olympic champion Zac Stubblety-Cooke.
The 24-year-old is now gunning for British great Adam Peaty’s 100m world record (56.88 seconds) as he gears up for the Paris Olympics. Qin will look to repeat the Fukuoka treble in front of home fans in Hangzhou and also win the 200m individual medley, having taken bronze in the event at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta.
YIN RUONING- Golf
Even at just 20, Yin is no stranger to the Asian Games, the recently crowned women’s world number one having won team bronze as a teenage schoolgirl at Jakarta in 2018.
China’s second world number one, following in the footsteps of Feng Shanshan, Yin heads into the Asian Games in fine form, having claimed her first major win at the Women’s PGA Championship in June, less than three months after her maiden LPGA Tour win at the LA Open. Coached by Feng, who won Olympic bronze at the 2016 Rio Games, Yin will compete in both the individual and women’s team events at the West Lake International Golf Course.
‘FAKER’ - Esports
South Korea’s Lee Sang-hyeok, better known by his gaming handle ‘Faker’, will be one of the biggest drawcards at Hangzhou as esports makes its Asian Games debut as a medal event, having been a demonstration sport at Jakarta.
Dubbed the ‘Michael Jordan of esports’, the 27-year-old’s pursuit is ‘League of Legends’, a multi-player online battle arena game which he has dominated in competition for much of the past decade. A long-serving member of South Korean professional gaming team T1, high school drop-out Faker will anchor his nation’s bid for gold in League’s team event at Hangzhou.
BAKHODIR JALOLOV- Boxing
Towering southpaw Jalolov won the super-heavyweight gold at the Tokyo Olympics, beating American Richard Torrez Jnr with an unanimous points decision in the final, to continue Uzbekistan’s history of punching above its weight in global boxing.
Jalolov, who carried Uzbekistan’s flag at the last two Summer Olympics, has built an unbeaten 13-0 record as a professional. He will be strongly favoured to win gold in the super-heavyweight (+92kg) division in Hangzhou on the way to defending his Olympic gold at Paris next year.