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Asian Games: Five talking points so far

September 30, 2023

It's the halfway stage in Hangzhou, China, where the postponed 2022 Asian Games are taking place. From medal highlights to doping lowlights and mixed headlines for Afghanistan, DW rounds up the key talking points so far.

Quinwen Zheng won gold for China in the women's singles tennis
"Queen Wen": Quinwen Zheng won gold for China in the women's singles tennisImage: Noushad Thekkayil/NurPhoto/picture alliance

'Queen Wen' reigns supreme

US Open quarterfinalist Zheng Qinwen won gold for China in the women's singles tennis, beating compatriot Zhu Lin 6-2, 6-4 in the final and adding to her maiden WTA title which she won in Palermo, Italy, in July.

"Palermo was my personal achievement," said the 20-year-old world number 23, fondly known as "Queen Wen" by her growing army of fans. "That title [was important] because I did poorly in the previous two Grand Slams and I needed to play some lower-level tournaments to earn more points.

"But this feels different because here I'm representing my country. For the Asian Games we worked hard and did a lot of preparation because we regard this competition as very important."

China making home advantage count

Having already racked up 205 medals at the halfway stage in Hangzhou, 107 of them gold, hosts China are making the most of home advantage.

In addition to traditional Asian martial arts such as kung fu (11 golds) and taekwondo (3), the Chinese have also won gold in classic Olympic sports including swimming (28), shooting (12), rowing (11) and gymnastics (8).

At some distance, Japan (28 golds) and South Korea (27) are neck-and-neck in the battle for second place in the medals table, with Uzbekistan, India and Thailand leading the best of the rest.

India's shooters on target

One discipline in which the hosts haven't had it all their own way, however, is shooting, where India broke the world record in the men's 50m rifle shooting en route to beating China to gold.

Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar, Swapnil Suresh Kusale and Akhil Sheoran secured first place with a total of 1,769 points, six points more than China and eight more than the previous record set by the United States last November.

Their achievement, one of six golds for India so far in shooting in Hangzhou, even earned praise from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"A stupendous win, prestigious gold and a world record," he posted to his 92 million followers on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter. "They have shown exceptional determination and teamwork."

It was India's 32nd medal overall.

ESports and exemptions

After featuring as a demonstration sport at the last Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, eSports is making its competitive debut in Hangzhou – and proving wildly popular as the only event for which organizers have had to introduce a lottery system for tickets.

Competition forms vary by genre but gold medals are awarded for each game, with China taking gold in "Arena of Valor," Thailand winning in "EA Sports FC" (the football simulation formerly known as "FIFA") and South Korea coming out on top in "Street Fighter V."

On Friday evening, South Korean star Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok and his teammates beat Taiwan 2-0 in the League of Legends final, winning not only gold but also exemption from military service.

With their country still technically at war with North Korea, all able-bodied South Korean men must serve at least 18 months in the military, but the e-sports pros will now be able to complete their mandatory service in a civilian fashion, doing just three weeks of basic military training before completing 544 hours of community service.

Exemptions from military service are controversial in South Korea, and the idea of gamers earning one has reignited a heated debate.

South Korea team celebrate with their gold medals after their victory at the Esports League of Legends final
League of Legends: South Korea earned e-sports gold - and exemption from military serviceImage: Louise Delmotte/AP/picture alliance

Afghanistan: positives and negatives

Seventeen female Afghan athletes are competing in Hangzhou, all of whom are based outside the country due to the Taliban's effective ban on women's sport – including co-flagbearer Kimia Yousofi, who started in the women's 100m heats on Friday.

However, the Australian-based sprinter finished last, 0.03 seconds slower than her personal best of 13.29 and failing to qualify.

"The most important thing for me is to represent our girls in Afghanistan," she said, calling on her female compatriots to "work on themselves, that means read books, everything they need for themselves personally."

Team Afghanistan enter the arena at the Asian Games opening ceremony
Despite the Taliban's ban on women's sport, Team Afghanistan includes 17 female athletesImage: Song Yanhua/Xinhua/picture alliance

Boxer Khaibar Nooristani provided a more positive result, but not the sort that Afghanistan will have wanted as he tested positive for two banned anabolic steroids and was provisionally suspended by the International Testing Agency (ITA).

"The sample was collected by the ITA at the Asian Games in Hangzhou during an out-of-competition anti-doping control performed on September 21, 2023," the body said Thursday, the test coming four days before Nooristani's defeat in the preliminary rounds of the 71kg weight class.

"The athlete has been informed of the case and has been provisionally suspended with immediate effect. He has the right to request the analysis of the B-sample."

Speaking earlier this week, Mani Jegathesan, an adviser to the Olympic Council of Asia's anti-doping committee, warned that drug cheats at the Games would be rooted out.

"Every participating athlete must understand that they could be picked at any time," Jegathesan warned. "This is the best step to ensuring we have a clean event."

With about 12,000 athletes at the 19th Asian Games, more competitors than at the Olympics, Jegathesan admitted it is impossible to test them all, but said world or Asian record breakers would be "prioritized." They will also home in on athletes if they receive "intelligence."

mf/ (AP, Reuters, dpa)