By Ian Ransom and Martin Quin Pollard
HANGZHOU, China (Reuters) -Teen sensation Pan Zhanle swam a freestyle leg at world record pace to drive China to the men’s 4×100 metres medley relay gold at the Asian Games on Tuesday after the hosts claimed the first title at esports’ official debut in the multi-sport event.
Two nights after becoming the first Asian swimmer to break the 47 seconds barrier in the 100 metres freestyle, 19-year-old Pan clocked an incredible 46.65 as China threatened the United States’ world record.
Pan’s time was 0.21 seconds faster than the 100m world record held by another 19-year-old wunderkind, Romanian David Popovici.
With world champion Qin Haiyang swimming the breaststroke leg in 57.63 seconds – faster than the Asian record – China won in three minutes 27.01 seconds, just outside the U.S. world record of 3:26.78 from the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
“We thought we would have to wait until next year to come close to the world record, so tonight we put in a really good performance,” said Qin, who owns the 50, 100 and 200 breaststroke world titles.
“There must be a higher goal. Our goal has always been to win the gold medal at the Paris Olympics next year.”
China have ruled the Hangzhou pool — and the Games in general. Olympic bronze medallist Li Bingjie won the women’s 400m freestyle to add to the medal haul.
However, Hong Kong’s Siobhan Haughey has been a bulwark of resistance to China’s dominance.
The former British colony’s first Olympic swimming medallist stormed to victory in the blue riband 100m freestyle with an Asian record swim of 52.17 seconds, a day after taking the 200 title.
“I haven’t swum a (personal) best time since Tokyo,” said 25-year-old Haughey, who took the 100 and 200 silvers at the Olympics.
“It just proves that I’m not at my peak yet.”
CHINESE GAMERS RULE
Esports has made its debut as a medal event in Hangzhou, five years after being a demonstration sport at Jakarta.
A team of five Chinese gamers beat Malaysia for the first gold medal in the “Arena of Valor” competition as esports pushed its case for Olympic inclusion.
Chinese authorities frown on excessive gaming and have put limits on children’s playing time since 2021.
But thousands of home fans were in a frenzy at the Hangzhou Esports Centre as China won 2-0 in a best-of-three clash for the popular mobile phone game.
Tapping furiously on their phones amid ear-splitting music and live commentary, the players communicated via headsets throughout a contest that stretched to 45 minutes and may have seemed bizarre to sports purists.
Thailand earlier claimed the Games’ first esports medal by beating Vietnam for the bronze.
China stretched their lead atop the medals table with golds in their usual strengths of gymnastics, table tennis and shooting.
Home favourite and twice world champion gymnast Zhang Boheng grabbed his second gold, adding the all-around individual title to his men’s team triumph on Sunday.
Unbeaten in every rotation, Zhang stuck the landing in the horizontal bar to finish with a total score of 89.299, over two points clear of Japan’s runner-up Takeru Kitazono.
North Korea’s delegation has made a splash in their first appearance at a multi-sport event since Jakarta five years ago.
On Monday, three North Korean shooters refused to join their South Korean rivals in a group photo of medal winners after missing out on gold.
North Korea’s flag, meanwhile is meant to be banned at all major events outside the Olympics due to anti-doping failures but it has flown proudly at the Games.
The World Anti-Doping Agency said it had launched a “compliance procedure” against the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) over the flag. The OCA did not comment.
South Korea’s delegation has also been in the spotlight for its athletes’ conduct.
Judoka Lee Hye-kyeong was disqualified in the semi-finals of the women’s 48-kg division for slapping a Kazakh opponent in the face during their bout on Sunday, while on Monday men’s tennis player Kwon Soon-woo destroyed his racket in an epic tantrum after he lost to a much lower-ranked Thai opponent.
Kwon, who also snubbed the post-match handshake, visited Thailand’s training camp to apologise, a South Korean tennis federation official told Yonhap on Tuesday.
The Games had a royal touch when Thailand’s Princess Sirivannavari Mahidol rode in on a horse named ‘Es Fangar’s Samba King’ in the dressage team event.
With Thailand finishing fifth — behind gold-winning India — the 36-year-old daughter of King Vajiralongkorn was unable to add a medal to the crown jewels.
“Luckily our father is supporting us,” said the princess, who played badminton at the 2006 Asian Games and competed in equestrian at the 2014 edition.
“He knows that what drives my heart is horses and badminton.”
(Additional reporting by Martin Quin Pollard; Editing by Peter Rutherford and Ken Ferris)