China vow to win 'duel in the pool' with Japan
China have vowed to come out on top in the Asian Games "duel in the pool" with arch-rivals Japan, but four-time Olympic gold medallist Kosuke Kitajima has other ideas.india Updated: Nov 12, 2010 09:36 IST
China have vowed to come out on top in the Asian Games "duel in the pool" with arch-rivals Japan, but four-time Olympic gold medallist Kosuke Kitajima has other ideas.
China and Japan were locked at 16 gold apiece in swimming events at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha with South Korea -- led by Park Tae-Hwan -- trailing in a distant third.
The first day of action on Saturday sees six gold on offer, in the women's 200m freestyle, 50m breaststroke, 100m butterfly -- featuring Olympic women's 200m butterfly runner-up Jiao Liuyang -- and 4x100m medley relay.
In the men's events, the 200m butterfly and 400m individual medley are up for grabs.
Chinese head coach Yao Zhengjie believes his 44-strong team of swimmers will be victorious in the southern city of Guangzhou, where events in the pool get under way on Saturday.
"We are all confident of winning more gold medals than Japan although Japan's swimming team are very strong. We need to make use of home advantage to beat them," Yao told China's official Xinhua news agency.
Men's 800m freestyle world champion Zhang Lin, the world record holder in the event, is expected to spearhead the hosts' gold-winning spree.
Butterfly star Liu Zige is missing but Jiao, women's 50m backstroke world champion Zhao Jing, and men's 1,500m freestyle world number one Sun Yang are top medal hopes.
And China's women are strong in the team events, winning both the 4x200m freestyle relay and the 4x100m medley relay at last year's world championships in Rome.
Zhang's match-ups with Olympic champion Park will a highlight, with the two heavyweights set to meet in the 200m, 400m and 1,500m freestyle events and the 4x200m freestyle relay.
Zhang won silver behind the South Korean in the men's 400m freestyle at the 2008 Olympics.
"Park is a strong rival," said Zhang, according to Xinhua. "But my biggest opponent is myself. I don't want to think too much about other swimmers. I just hope to improve my results."
Japan's Kitajima, who took gold in the 100m and 200m breaststroke at the 2004 Athens Olympics and retained both titles in Beijing, comes into the Asian Games in sparkling form after winning the 100m and 200m breaststroke at August's Pan Pacific Championships.
He is aiming for a third straight Asian Games double in the 100m and 200m but faces competition from Ryo Tateishi, ranked third in the world in the 100m.
Japan's 26-strong team also includes men's 100m backstroke world champion Junya Koga and Ryosuke Irie, who took silver in the men's 200m backstroke at the 2009 world championships. Both are struggling to regain top form.
Aya Terakawa is a favourite in the women's backstroke after finishing as runner-up in the 50m and 100m at the PanPacs.
"I'm glad to be back (in China) once again. I want to tune up and give all I have," Kitajima said on Thursday.
Away from the top two Asian swimming powerhouses, the star of the pool could be South Korea's Park, who dominated in Doha, winning seven medals, including three gold, to be named the "most valuable player" of the Games.
Park, who went on to win his country's first Olympic medal in swimming two years later in Beijing, took gold in the 200m, 400m and 1,500 freestyle at the 2006 Asian Games as a 17-year-old.
After a difficult 2009 in which he flopped at the world championships, Park has returned to winning ways, taking the 400m freestyle title at the PanPacs, beating Chinese rival Zhang into third place.