Eight athletes to watch at the 2023 Asian Games
The Straits Times looks at eight athletes who are aiming to shine at the 19th Asiad which starts in Hangzhou, China, on Saturday.
Kunlavut Vitidsarn, 22, Thailand (badminton)
Making his Asiad debut, Kunlavut enters the men’s badminton competition as a favourite following his World Championships title triumph in August.
While the world No. 4 will come up against tough adversaries in Indonesia’s No. 2 Anthony Ginting and Japan’s No. 3 Kodai Naraoka, he has a positive head-to-head record against both players.
Kunlavut, who has won 33 out of 43 games and three singles titles in 2023, will be focused on carrying his red-hot form into his maiden Games.
Yin Ruoning, 20, China (golf)
The top-ranked female golfer became a Major champion after capturing the Women’s PGA Championship in June. Yin is only the second Chinese golfer to rise to world No. 1 since compatriot Feng Shanshan.
The Kunming native will be making her second Asiad appearance after clinching bronze in the team event at the 2018 Games in Jakarta.
Yin, who turned professional in 2020, will be aiming to medal in the individual event at Hangzhou’s Westlake International Golf Club. She finished 26th out of 42 competitors in her last Games outing.
Mutaz Essa Barshim, 32, Qatar (athletics)
Besides making headlines for jointly winning the Olympic high jump gold with Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi in Tokyo, Mutaz has had a decorated career that includes three World Championship and two Asian Games golds.
The Qatari skipped the Diamond League finals in Oregon to focus on the Hangzhou Asiad. He will be attempting to regain his high jump crown, which he last won in 2014 – he did not compete in the 2018 edition.
Mutaz, who holds the Asiad record of 2.35m, will face stiff competition from South Korea’s Woo Sang-hyeok who was runner-up in Jakarta in 2018.
Neeraj Chopra, 25, India (athletics)
Chopra, who serves as an officer in the Indian army, won the gold medal in javelin throw with his 88.17m effort at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary, just a month ago, adding to his Tokyo Olympic title.
The 25-year-old arrives at the Asiad fresh off a silver medal from last weekend’s Diamond League finals after registering 83.80m.
His biggest challenge in Hangzhou will likely come from Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem, who had finished second at August’s world championships with an 87.82m throw.
Lee Kang-In, 22, South Korea (football)
With South Korea gunning for their third consecutive Asiad men’s football gold medal, Lee will play a starring role having earned a lucrative summer move to French giants Paris Saint-Germain in June, for a reported €22 million (S$32 million).
The 22-year-old winger, one of the brightest talents in his age group, will join the South Korean Under-24 team after Wednesday’s Champions League match against Borussia Dortmund. This means he will likely be available for their final group game against Bahrain on Sunday. The South Koreans, who opened their Group E campaign with a 9-0 thrashing of Kuwait on Tuesday, face Thailand on Thursday.
Lee will be hoping to emulate compatriot Son Heung-min’s feat of clinching gold, which comes with an exemption from the country’s mandatory two-year military service.
Rikako Ikee, 23, Japan (swimming)
At the 2018 Jakarta Games, Ikee became the first female athlete to win the Most Valuable Player award at the Asiad with her haul of six gold and two silver medals.
But the Japanese swimmer was dealt a crushing blow when she was diagnosed with leukemia in 2019. Two years later, she made a remarkable recovery by representing Japan’s 4x100m relay team at the Tokyo Olympics.
Having competed in various individual events at July’s World Aquatics Championships, Ikee will be hoping to rediscover her 2018 Asiad form in Hangzhou.
Oksana Chusovitina, 46, Uzbekistan (artistic gymnastics)
Uzbekistani artistic gymnast Chusovitina is a renowned name in her sport. She is one of six women Olympians and the only gymnast to have competed in eight Olympic Games; winning gold at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
Chusovitina is a symbol of longevity in artistic gymnastics, with three World Championship and two Asian Games golds to go with her Olympic gold. In an interview with Olympics.com after the 2020 Tokyo Games, she said: “I continued my sports career in order to leave the sport the way I want it.”
Adding another Asiad medal, at the age of 46, to her collection of accolades would only enhance what is already an illustrious career.
Ding Liren, 30, China (chess)
In April’s World Chess Championship, Ding defeated Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi to become China’s first-ever men’s world champion.
He is the highest-rated Chinese chess player in history, having achieved a peak International Chess Federation (Fide) rating of 2816.
After a 13-year hiatus, chess will return to the Asiad in 2023 with Ding leading the Chinese team. The 30-year-old will boost the host nation’s medal prospects in both the individual and team events.
The Straits Times
Asia News Network