By Nick Mulvenney
JAKARTA, Aug 20 : Chinese medal machine Sun Yang’s bid for a record-equalling five swimming titles at the Asian Games came to an abrupt end on Monday when, having picked up his second individual gold, he failed to anchor his country to victory in the relay.
Japan’s teenage sensation Rikako Ikee snared two individual titles to take her tally to three golds in the Jakarta pool and her male compatriots later contrived to deny Sun the chance to match her feat.
Sun had landed the 200 metres freestyle title on Sunday and was no less dominant in winning the 800m free in the first race of the evening but was just unable to overhaul Katsuhiro Matsumoto in the final leg of the 4x200m freestyle relay.
The multiple Olympic and world champion still has the chance for two more golds in the 400m and 1,500m freestyle races but can no longer match the three other swimmers who have won five golds at a single Asian Games.
Sun bided his time in the 800m but, having hit the front at halfway, eased away from his rivals and touched the wall some three metres clear of Japan’s Shogo Takeda in seven minutes, 48.36 seconds.
“I saved energy for the relay,” Sun said. “I could have got a faster time but it is my duty as team captain to do my best in the relay.” His medal ceremony passed without incident, unlike on Sunday when Sun demanded it be re-run after the flags fell off the hoist, but the 26-year-old had little time to enjoy his victory before he was back on deck for the relay.
Matsumoto had a lead of a body length at the start of the final leg and while Sun gave it his all, the Japanese held on to win his country’s fourth gold medal of the night in 7:05.17.
Ikee, who looks likely to be the face of Japanese swimming at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, grabbed two of the other three titles in Games’ record times to add to her 4x100m relay gold from Sunday.
The 18-year-old stormed to victory in the 50m butterfly in 25.55 seconds and, minutes after receiving her medal, overhauled China’s Zhu Menghui over the final quarter to win the 100m freestyle by a fingernail in 53.27.
“I really put it together after the turn,” Ikee said. “I came in aiming to get two gold medals today and I’m happy I managed that.” Between Ikee’s two wins, China’s world champion Xu Jiayu (24.75) again pipped his Japanese rival Ryosuke Irie (24.88) in the men’s 50m backstroke final in a carbon copy of his victory in the 100m on Sunday.
There was more disappointment for Japan when Olympic champion Kosuke Hagino’s bid to defend both individual medley titles failed at the first hurdle when he was passed by China’s Wang Shun over the final few metres of the 200m.
His compatriot Kanako Watanabe had better luck in her 200m breaststroke title defence but she was forced to work hard for it, coming from third to first over the final lap and edging China’s Yu Jingyao in a time of 2:23.05.
Japan and China have evenly split the 14 titles up for grabs over the first two nights of the swimming competition.