China won the first gold medal of the Hangzhou Asian Games and then cleaned up in the swimming events yesterday, breaking several records in the process.
By the end of a highly successful day one for the hosts, they had pocketed 20 of 31 golds, with South Korea their nearest challengers with five.
China’s medal rush began when Zou Jiaqi and Qiu Xiuping dominated the women’s lightweight double sculls rowing for the first gold of the Games, finishing almost 10 seconds ahead of Uzbekistan.
It was especially satisfying for Zou, who hails from Hangzhou.
“I am very excited as it’s my first Asian Games,” she said, clutching her gold medal.
The home nation won six of the seven golds at the Fuyang Water Sports Centre rowing venue with only Hong Kong’s Lam San-tung and Wong Wai-chun getting in on the party by winning the men’s pairs.
More golds rolled in for China in shooting, modern pentathlon, wushu and artistic gymnastics, in which they triumphed in the men’s team event.
But they saved the best for last, in swimming, in what is always one of the most prestigious events at the Games and has extra significance with the Paris Olympics less than a year away.
Olympic champion Zhang Yufei was among the winners as China romped home in all seven races on the opening night in the pool, smashing a slew of Asian records.
Zhang successfully defended her 200m butterfly crown, cruising to victory ahead of teammate Yu Liyan in a new Games-record time of 2min 05.57sec.
That has been bettered this year only by Canadian star Summer McIntosh and Australia’s Lizzie Dekkers, as Zhang builds towards defending her Olympic title in Paris.
“I felt I could have gone even faster,” she warned.
“My first mission was to take the gold for China. Next was to beat Jiao Liuyang’s Games record, and I also did that.
“I actually felt the pool was a little slow for me and I told my coach that I wasn’t feeling in good form.”
The first official day of the 19th Asian Games also saw medals handed out in fencing, judo and taekwondo.
Hong Kong’s Edgar Cheung, already a hero to many in the southern Chinese city, added Asian Games gold to the one he won at the Tokyo Olympics two years ago in the men’s foil.
Two of South Korea’s five golds came in taekwondo, with Kang Wan-jin winning the men’s individual poomsae and Cha Yea-eun doing likewise in the women’s event.
Other sports beginning on Sunday included boxing, rugby sevens, hockey and eSports – where superstars such as South Korea’s “Faker” are expected to draw huge crowds for its debut as a full Asian Games medal event.
President Xi Jinping opened the Games on Saturday night after a delay of a year because of China’s now-abandoned zero-Covid policy. With more than 12,000 competitors from 45 nations and territories, the Asian Games has more participants than the Olympics.
They will battle for medals in 40 sports across 54 venues.
Most events take place in Hangzhou, a city of 12mn people near Shanghai, but some sports are being staged in cities as far afield as Wenzhou, 300 kilometres (186 miles) to the south.
Silver-medallist China’s Yu Liyan (left), gold-medallist China’s Zhang Yufei (centre) and bronze-medallist Japan’s Hiroko Makino celebrate during women’s 200m butterfly medals ceremony at the Asian Games in Hangzhou yesterday. (AFP)