Asian Games: Five stars to watch out for in Jakarta and Palembang

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The Asian Games begin in Jakarta and Palembang, Indonesia, this weekend.

It’s the 18th Asiad, with the first taking place back in 1951 in New Delhi.

With preliminary round games already underway in four team sports, the Olympic Channel picks out five athletes to watch for in the Indonesian cities.


Joseph Schooling

It was one of the biggest surprises swimming had ever seen.

Singapore’s Schooling, then just 21 years old, beat the all-conquering Michael Phelps to gold in the 100m butterfly at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

And it wasn’t just any race. Schooling took Singapore’s first Olympic gold in Phelps’ final individual race.

Schooling claimed four medals at the last edition of the Asian Games in Incheon but is aiming to snatch five this year. His events include the 100m freestyle, 100m and 50m fly, and the 4×100m freestyle and 4×100m medley relays.

Son Heung-min

The Tottenham midfielder is South Korea’s hottest name in football right now.

Despite his significant role for the Premier League side, Son has been granted permission to turn out for his country in Indonesia.

Son participated in Spurs’ opening game of the season as they beat Newcastle 2–1 away before he boarded the plane to join his national teammates.

Earlier this summer, his goal helped to knock out reigning world champs Germany at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

Unlike Tottenham, the 26-year-old’s former club Bayer Leverkusen would not release him for the 2014 Asian Games on home soil which South Korea won.

Two years later, as a Spurs player, he was allowed to participate in the 2016 Rio Olympics as an overage player. That call-up saw him net twice in the group stage against Fiji and Germany. South Korea won their group but were eventually beaten by Honduras in the quarter-finals.

Son has extra motivation as a victory in Jakarta should mean he can continue at Tottenham and avoid the 21 months of compulsory military service which all Korean men must begin before their 28th birthday. If Son wants an exemption, he must lead his country to gold.

SOREANG, INDONESIA - AUGUST 15: Son Heung Min of South Korea arrives at the stadium prior to the Men's Football Group E match between South Korea and Bahrain at Si Jalak Harupat Stadium ahead of the Asian Games on August 15, 2018 in Soreang, Indonesia. (Photo by Yifan Ding/Getty Images)
Son Heung-Min of South Korea arrives at the Si Jalak Harupat Stadium prior to the Asian Games match between South Korea and Bahrain. (Photo by Yifan Ding/Getty Images)

Kento Momota

The explosive badminton player became the first Japanese man to win a world title earlier this month.

Momota clinched a convincing 21–11, 21–13 victory in Nanjing against China’s Youth Olympic champ Shi Yuqi.

But the new world champion hasn’t always found it smooth sailing.

His career descended into controversy in 2016 when Japanese badminton chiefs suspended him for more than a year for visiting an illegal casino in Tokyo.

The ban kept the then-world number two out of Rio 2016.

But he has been working his way back ever since and is currently in the form of his life.

Su Bingtian

China’s top man on the track is aiming to highlight his status as the fastest man on the Asian continent.

The 28-year-old Su set a 100m personal best of 9.91s in Madrid at the end of June, and repeated that feat a week later in Paris.

The time makes him the current co-holder of the Asian 100m record, tied with Qatari Femi Ogunode who recorded that time back in 2015.

Nigerian-born Ogunode beat Su to gold at the 2014 Asian Games but hasn’t made it below 10 seconds this season.

Su’s biggest challenger in Jakarta might be compatriot Xie Zhenye.

Xie was part of the 2015 Chinese world championship silver-winning 4×100m relay team alongside Su. He set his personal best of 9.97s earlier this year.

Nicol David

The 34-year-old squash superstar has medals stretching back 20 years in the Asian Games.

David has six golds (four singles, two team) and one singles silver to her name.

The Malaysian was only 15 years old when she won her first Asiad title in Bangkok in 1998.

She sat on top of the world rankings from 2006 to 2015, and has eight World Championship titles to her name.

Other things to keep an eye on in Indonesia

  • eSports makes its Games debut as a demonstration event.
  • India have sent a strong women’s badminton squad, including 2018 world championship and 2016 Olympic silver medallist PV Sindhu and Commonwealth Games champion Saina Nehwal.
  • Thailand are hoping to continue their dominance in sepak takraw. They’ve won 22 of the 33 gold medals awarded in the sport heading into these Games.
  • Malaysia have the oldest and youngest competitors in Indonesia: there are 70 years between them!
  • The North and South Korean teams will march together at the opening ceremony. They are also competing as a Unified Korea team in three sports.
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Author: Nicklas Vinde
Nicklas Vinde is an Olympic Channel news producer, reporter and VJ. A proud Dane in love with Spain. Came for the fútbol and stayed for the Olympics.