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Asian Games mirror region's growth
November 30, 2006 18:48 IST
Like the entire continent, the Asian Games just keeps getting bigger and better. From humble beginnings in 1951, the Asian Games have blossomed to become the second largest sporting event in the world, only superseded by the Olympic Summer Games themselves.
In some respects, the 15th Asian Games will be even greater than the Olympics. Doha 2006, for example, will feature 46 disciplines across 39 sports in 424 events, while the Summer Olympics features 35 disciplines across 28 sports producing a little less than 400 events.
Doha 2006 will host more than 10,500 athletes from 45 countries and regions and their exploits will be beamed to a potential worldwide audience of 3 billion viewers.
When the long trek to Doha 2006 began 55 years ago few would have believed that the event would become so important. The 1st Asian Games New Delhi 1951 featured just 11 countries competing in six sports. The first sports programme featured athletics, aquatics, basketball, cycling, football and weightlifting.
But the chance to compete on a continental level quickly attracted many countries and regions from across the continent and for the 2nd Asian Games Manila 1954, 19 countries and regions competed in eight sports. The programme dropped cycling but added boxing, shooting and wrestling. This was also the first appearance of Korea, which has since become one of the Games' top performers, typically finishing third in medal tables.
The Games' growth continued apace and the 3rd Asian Games Tokyo 1958 welcomed 1,422 athletes competing in 13 sports, with tennis, volleyball, table tennis, cycling and hockey joining the programme.
Tokyo also marked the first Torch Relay, adding ceremonial panache to the proceedings. Japan, hosting the event for the first time, continued its domination of the Games by topping the medals table.
The fourth edition took place in Indonesia's capital, Jakarta and the number of participating countries and regions briefly fell to 16. India made a triumphant return to the lofty heights in the medal table, finishing second as they had done at the 1st Games 11 years earlier.
The Games then began a period of growth that continues to this day. Bangkok hosted the Games in both 1966 and 1970, finishing third in the medals table at both events, with Japan first and Korea second at both events. In the 1966 event, 18 countries and regions sent 2,500 athletes. Meanwhile, in 1970 there were 2,600 athletes represented and sailing made its debut.
The Middle East became an Asian Games location for the first time at Tehran 1974, with the Games once again growing in size and importance. There were now 25 countries and regions participating. Fencing and gymnastics were added to the list of sports for the first time, sailing was dropped, and for the seventh consecutive Asian Games, Japan again finished top of the medal table.
Thailand showed its enduring enthusiasm to play host to its Asian cousins once again for the 8th Asian Games Bangkok 1978. Archery and bowling were added to the programme, and sailing was revived, boosting the number of competitors to more than 3,800 athletes. Japan again finished top of the medal table, but China and Korea were closing the gap and Japanese domination approached its end.
Four years later New Delhi 1982 hosted the largest Games in the events' history, with more than 4,500 competitors from 33 countries and regions taking part. Fencing and bowling events were dropped from the programme, but equestrian, rowing, handball and golf were added. China finally toppled Japan in the medal table by winning four more gold medals. In all, Japan had topped the medal table eight times in a row, a record for consecutive Games that still stands.
China tops medal table
Thailand hosted the Games four times, proving its endless enthusiasm.
The 10th Asian Games Seoul 1986 gave Korea a chance to test its preparations for the 1988 Olympics. There were almost 5,000 athletes, and for the first time the Asian Games came under the control of the Olympic Council of Asia. Martial arts played a more prominent part in the programme, with the introduction of judo and taekwondo. China topped the medals tally for the second time in succession, while the previously all-conquering Japanese dropped to third place.
It was fitting result for the Chinese, given that they hosted the next Asian Games, Beijing 1990, and 37 countries and regions travelled to participate in 27 events. The program dropped taekwondo, along with equestrian events, but Asian specialities, kabaddi, wushu and sepaktakraw made their first appearance, along with boxing and canoeing. China revelled in being the host nation and again took first place in the medals table.
In 1994, the honour of hosting the Games passed to Japan with Hiroshima as the host city for the 12th Asian Games. It was the first time the Games were not held in a capital city. The event experienced a big surge in growth, with 6,828 athletes from 42 countries and regions participating in 34 sports. The theme of the Games was peace and harmony.
For the first time former republics of the Soviet Union; Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan participated and Cambodia returned to the competition after a 20-year absence. Baseball, karate, modern pentathlon and tennis joined the programme. But Japan's role as host nation did not mean a return to the top of the medals chart. China once again finished first.
In 1998 the Games returned to Thailand for a fourth time. Rugby, billiards, snooker and squash were added, and the Games lived up to its 'friendship beyond frontiers' motto. However, despite being hosts, Thailand could not break into the top three medal-winners as they had done in the 5th and 6th Asian Games, failing to break the stranglehold of Asian Sporting titans, China, Japan and Korea.
Korea threw its doors open to its Asian cousins by hosting the 14th Asian Games Busan 2002, only the second time in the history of the Games that the event was hosted outside a capital city. With 44 countries and regions now involved, the 14th Asian Games featured 38 sports and 420 events, with Afghanistan returning to competitive action and Timor-Leste represented for the first time since its independence. China topped the medals table for the sixth consecutive Games.
Doha 2006 represents the first time the Asian Games have visited the GCC region and it is only the second time, after Iran in 1974, that the Games have been held in the Middle East. Doha 2006 will welcome more countries, sports and athletes than ever before in Games history, so let the Games begin.