August 16, 2000


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Asia unable to turn people power into gold

Brian Bain

Asia, home to more than three-fifths of the world's six billion population, has yet to turn overwhelming people power into sporting gold.

The 2000 Sydney Olympics next month are unlikely to be any different.

Asia-Pacific countries will probably come away with only around a sixth of the 300 gold medals, with China, Australia and, perhaps, South Korea again sharing most of the haul.

At the 1996 Atlanta Games, Asia-Pacific nations won 43 of the 271 golds with China bagging 16, Australia nine and South Korea seven.

The reasons, and excuses, for the comparatively poor showing of Asians are many.

The climate is cruel in many parts of Asia and few countries have adequate facilities for both training and competition.

Many governments lack the commitment to improve sports in their countries, and in some the reason is not so much disinterest but pure economics; they just do not have the funds.

Few events in Asia draw the stiff international competition that is needed if Asian athletes are to improve. There is not enough money from sponsorship, governments or sporting bodies to attract leading athletes and the weather is another deterrent.

Only a few Asian athletes have followed in the footsteps of the Kenyans and other world class Africans who train and receive coaching in the more developed sporting countries. A lack of sponsorship is one of the prime factors.

Culture and religion also often play a part. Asians have strong family values and there is often a reluctance to spend months, let alone years, living and training far away from home.

Afghanistan for example has a dress code that bans men from wearing and from cutting their beards. Last month religious police of the ruling Taleban arrested visiting Pakistani soccerl players and shaved their heads because they were wearing shorts.

Women have to wear an all-enveloping "burqa" veil while going out, and cannot dress in skintight revealing sportswear. Other Moslem countries also enforce strict dress codes.

Major Asian contenders

CHINA: After sending one swimmer to Helsinki 1952, China boycotted the Olympics until the International Olympic Committee recognised Beijing's sovereignty over Taiwan in 1979. Since then China have won 52 golds in five summer Games.

Chinese sports chiefs set a target of 16 golds in Sydney this year -- the same as in Atlanta -- but warned this could be hard to attain. The once powerful swimming team aim for a modest goal of just one gold. In track and field, coach Ma Junren's team of middle and long distance runners could surprise, but officials look for success only in the women's 20 km walk.

The men's gymnastics team and the women weightlifters are expected to win multiple gold. The women's soccer team -- China's "Roses" -- are determined to avenge their narrow defeat by the United States in the World Cup but face other difficult teams.

SOUTH KOREA: South Korea are among the top 10 powers at the Olympics since first participating in 1936 under the flag of Japan, which occupied the Korean peninsula until 1945.

Their best finish was fourth overall at Seoul 1988 with 33 medals, including 12 golds. This year, when the Korean national sport of taekwondo debuts, they hope their 280 athletes in Sydney will win at least 10 golds.

Kim Un-yong, South Korea's Olympics Committee president and an executive board member of the IOC, said the national team would be going for gold in taekwondo, archery, gymnastics, wrestling, shooting, judo, table tennis, weightlifting and women's handball.

JAPAN: Japan first competed at Stockholm 1912 and since then have won 93 gold, 89 silver and 99 bronze.

Their most successes came at Tokyo 1964 with 16 golds but their success level has dropped off since Los Angeles 1984.

Best chances in Sydney are in the men's and women's marathons, men's hammer, judo and women's swimming.

INDONESIA: - Since Rome 1960, Indonesia have picked up three golds, four silver and three bronze, with all but one silver coming from badminton, the country's most popular sport.

Indonesia's first gold medals in the inaugural badminton competition at Barcelona 1992 were in the men and women singles from Susi Susanti and Alan Budikusuma, both ethnic Chinese who have since married and have a child.

In Sydney, Indonesia will again pin their hopes on badminton, with Taufik Hidayat and world number two Hendrawan strong contenders in the men's singles.

INDIA: India once dominated men's hockey with eight golds, the last in Moscow, but the advent of synthetic turf and a change in rules broke their stranglehold.

"Tennis and (women's) weightlifting seem to be medal winning prospects for India," P.K. Mahanand, a former Indian national weightlifting selector said.

Leander Paes, who won a bronze in Atlanta, and Mahesh Bhupathi are expected to team up again in Sydney and would have a strong chance as winners of the 1999 Wimbledon and French titles.

PAKISTAN: - As always, Pakistan's best and usually only medal hope is men's hockey, in which they have won eight medals, including three golds, in 11 Summer Games.

They have had a tougher time in the last three Olympics, although team manager Islahuddin Siddiqui hopes for a return to the podium in Sydney.

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