Asia celebrates record Olympic gold tally


SYDNEY, AFP

Thai boxer Wijan Ponlid brought the curtain down on a glittering Olympic campaign for Asia highlighted by the emergence of China as a medal table heavyweight.

Wijan danced and jabbed his way to a brilliant gold medal against world champion flyweight Bulat Jumadilov to win Asia’s 43rd and final gold of the Olympics.

The tally surpassed the continent’s previous best total of 37 golds from the Barcelona Games eight years ago, with the top nations now eyeing an even better performance at Athens 2004.

The gold rush got underway when Japanese judoka Ryoko Tamura won gold on the first Saturday of competition.

Japan and South Korea eventually failed to dominate judo and taekwondo as expected although each chipped in with five and eight gold medals respectively across a range of sports.

Spearheading Japan’s golds was marathon winner Naoko Takahashi, the first Japanese woman to win an athletics gold.

But it was China who proved to be the principal Asian standard bearers, eventually winning 28 of the continent’s total gold haul.

Two of China’s golds came from the peerless diver Fu Mingxia, who took her all time tally to four when she retained the women’s three-meter springboard title.

Among the Chinese medals was an unprecedented second consecutive clean sweep of the golds in table tennis, with singles star Kong Linghui completing the feat with a dramatic victory.

They nearly achieved a similar feat in badminton, only Indonesia’s doubles pair of Candra Wijaya and Tony Gunawan denying them all five golds.

But China did sweep the board in women’s weightlifting, an Olympic sport for the first time in Sydney, with Ding Meiyuan being crowned world’s strongest woman.

Women’s weightlifting saw Thailand’s Khassaraporn Suta finish in the medals with a bronze medal. Khassaraporn, an officer in the army, was promoted as a result.

India’s Karnam Malleswari — “overweight, drinking beer and eating too much chicken and cheese” according to the press — left her critics shame-faced. She won weightlifting bronze to become her country’s first ever woman medalist.

There was no joy for Taiwan weightlifter Chen Po-pu however, who earned the unwanted distinction of becoming the first athlete to be sent home from Sydney after failing a dope test.

A more savory first was found in taekwondo though, Vietnam’s Tran Hieu Ngan taking silver in the 57kg division — her country’s first ever Olympic medal.