By Ian Ransom
HANGZHOU, China (Reuters) -Japan ended North Korea’s hopes of a fairytale soccer gold with a 4-1 thrashing in the Asian Games final after breakdancing made its debut in a whirlwind of baggy pants and pounding beats.
A three-goal burst in the second half at Huanglong Sports Centre Stadium secured Japan back-to-back titles in the women’s soccer event and left North Korean fans wiping away tears.
Without a FIFA world ranking and playing their first international football since before COVID-19, the Koreans held Japan to 1-1 at halftime with the support of Chinese fans but ultimately crumbled to miss out on a fourth gold medal in the event.
China demolished Uzbekistan 7-0 in the bronze medal playoff.
A year out from breakdancing’s debut at the Paris Olympics, ‘b-boys’ and ‘b-girls’ competed in the qualifying rounds, performing tricks to ear-splitting jams in front of a panel of judges and several thousand spectators.
Along with esports’ debut as a medal event in Hangzhou, organisers hope “breaking” can help lure young viewers turned off by traditional Games sports.
A counter-cultural art-form born in the streets of New York City decades ago, breakdance is now judged against broad criteria in competition.
“Now it has become a sport, its culture is becoming less and less because after all, we have to cooperate with some sports norms,” said 24-year-old Taiwan breaker Sun Zhen, who reached Saturday’s knockout rounds.
Philippines basketball celebrated a return to the glory days of the mid-20th century by beating Jordan 70-60 in the men’s final for their first gold in the event in 61 years.
“There was a lot of people who didn’t think we could do it, and we proved them wrong,” said the Philippines’ California-born guard Chris Newsome.
Both cricket’s return to the Games and India’s debut in the T20 tournament have proved a success, with the south Asians reaching Saturday’s final by thumping Bangladesh by nine wickets.
Hopes for a gold medal showdown with bitter rivals Pakistan proved forlorn as Afghanistan surged to a four-wicket win over the Pakistanis in the other semi-final.
Pakistan, who failed to medal in the women’s event won by India, will play for bronze against Bangladesh.
Olympic bronze medallists India continued their resurgence in hockey, thrashing Japan 5-1 in the final to win their fourth Games gold and first since Incheon in 2014.
In the weightlifting, China’s Liu Huanhua bulked up for the 109kg division and stunned Uzbekistan’s Olympic champion Akbar Djuraev, only weeks after winning the 102kg world title in Saudi Arabia.
Liu hoisted a combined 418kg to pip twice world champion Djuraev by a kilogram.
“I had competed in the 102kg so today I did not perform to my best,” said 22-year-old Liu.
“But the crowd was so enthusiastic that they lifted me up, and I had this driving force inside me.”
His compatriot Liang Xiaomei, a four-times world champion, coasted to the women’s 87kg title.
Djuraev’s disappointment was not the first blow for Uzbekistan at the hands of the hosts.
Their canoe slalom silver medallist Anvar Klevleev was in line for gold in the men’s event with a total run time of 98.63 seconds.
But the gold ended up with home competitor Xie Yuancong who successfully appealed against a 50-second penalty for missing a gate on the course.
A second Saudi Arabian runner was banned for a positive doping test for darbepoetin, a blood-booster similar to erythropoietin (EPO).
Middle distance runner Wesam Nasser A Alfarsi, who finished last of 12 runners in the 3,000m steeplechase, became the sixth athlete overall to be suspended at the Games.
Mongolian women’s 55kg weightlifter Erdenezul Buyandelger then became the seventh after testing positive for a banned steroid.
The equestrian programme wrapped up, with Abdullah Al-Sharbatly trotting away with his sixth Asian Games gold for Saudi Arabia after winning the individual jumping title.
Al-Sharbatly also claimed a fourth team gold after titles at the 2006, 2010 and 2018 Games.
“I’m very proud … because I (was) in the lead by far as the best Saudi athlete with five golds. Now it’s six golds. Amazing,” said the 41-year-old, who was bullish on his chances at the Paris Olympics.
“I am expecting, and I hope, to win gold in Paris … Inshallah, I will do it.”
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford, Toby Davis and Christian Radnedge)