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A star afar
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 07 - 12 - 2006

China is light years ahead in the Asian Games, leaving Japan and South Korea to fight for second place, writes Nashwa Abdel-Tawab
Four days into the 15th Asian Games in Doha, Qatar, China topped the table with 51 medals, followed by Japan with 27 medals, and South Korea with 26. The 31 gold medals for China, as opposed to the seven gold captured by Japan, attests to China edging closer to becoming a sporting superpower in time for the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
The success of these three countries has created an imbalance in the Asian Games which now focuses more on the Far East than on the 45 countries in general.
For long Japan sat pretty atop the medal table at each Asian Games, but having lost that honour to rivals China at the 1982 edition of the Games in New Delhi, they have since slipped to third behind Korea in all but the Hiroshima Games of 1994.
This means that the 628-strong Japanese delegation arrived in Doha for the Asian Games on a mission to not only reclaim second spot, but to also haul themselves closer to China, who won 150 gold medals in Busan four years ago in comparison to their rivals' 44 -- less than half the Korean tally of 96.
Japan though still leads the way in the number of Asian Games medals won overall with 2,188 in comparison to China's 1,799 and the 1,356 of Korea. While they have won more silver (746) and bronze (654) medals, however, it is China who have won more gold medals with 819 to Japan's 788.
The dominance of these three Asian superpowers is easy to see when you consider that the fourth most successful Asian Games nation is India with a total of 427 medals -- which equates to only a fifth of the number won by Japan alone -- and that divide is sure to widen further in Doha.
In fact when you add all of the medals won by all the other countries and regions they add up to 3,721, significantly less than the 5,343 of China, Japan and Korea put together.
The Japanese squad charged with reclaiming second spot in Asia -- as they did at the Athens Olympic Games of 2004 -- is made up of 352 male and 276 female athletes, some 30 fewer than the number who returned from Busan with 190 medals.
This slight reduction is, however, according to Japanese Olympic Committee vice president Tsutomu Hayashi, merely down to the focus on winning more gold medals in Doha. "We have cut our size because our aim is to win medals," Hayashi said. "We want to put our gold medal target above 50. We want to overtake Korea and climb to second place."
Their best-ever Olympic performance was at the Olympics in Athens when they won a record 37 medals, 16 of them gold. That means Japan will arrive confident of overhauling Korea for the coveted second spot as they build towards the Beijing Olympics.
"We regard the Asian Games as an important step toward the Beijing Olympics. If we can't win in Asia, we cannot fight in Beijing," Hayashi added.
Japan's best hopes of medals are in swimming, women's wrestling, judo and athletics with team captain Kosuke Kitajima and flagbearer Saori Yoshida among the athletes expected to retain their Asian Games titles.

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