India had its best Asian Games campaign ever in Hangzhou with 107 medals, including a record 28 gold. While several gold medals and podium places may capture the imagination of casual followers, there are several performances—even in losing causes—that deserve special mention.
China and its athletes have often been the yardstick at the continental event, and this year, India got the better of its neighbour on a few occasions.
One of the biggest moments for India, however, was not gold but the bronze medal it earned in women’s doubles table tennis after beating China. No one would have even batted an eyelid if the doubles pair of Sutirtha Mukherjee and Ayhika Mukherjee had gone down to the World No. 2 pairing of Yidi Wang and Chen Meng in the women’s quarterfinals. But they went into the lion’s den and flipped the script.
The Mukherjees played a game of cat-and-mouse while keeping their defence strong. The duo forced the Chinese to commit errors. Wang and Meng fell for the trap and eventually succumbed 1-3. Sutirtha and Ayhika, though downed in the semifinals, won bronze that was well worth its weight in gold.
All eyes were on the Indian shooters to see how they fared against China, especially in the lead-up to next year’s Olympics. India hit the golden target in seven events, but it was Sift Kaur Samra’s gold medal in the 50m rifle 3 positions and Palak Gulia’s gold in 10m air pistol that stood above the rest.
The 22-year-old Sift scored 7.3 more than China’s Zhang Qiongyue, going on to register a world record score of 469.6 in the final. Palak won gold with a Games record score of 242.1 and beat China’s Jiang Ranxin, who won bronze in individual and gold in mixed team at the Tokyo Olympics. But at the Fuyang Yinhu Sports Centre, Jiang was well below her best.
Even though it did not win, the Indian men’s badminton team gave the Chinese a big scare when it went 2-0 up in the final, thanks to Lakshya Sen, and doubles pair Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy’s exploits. They beat the Chinese, ranked higher than them in world rankings. India, however, couldn’t close out the win to claim gold because of its lack of depth.
India’s athletics contingent made it rain medals at the city’s Olympic Stadium, even having to overcome poor officiating at times. Annu Rani, who has been well below her best in recent times, won gold in the women’s javelin by finishing ahead of Dilhani Lekamge of Sri Lanka and China’s Lyu Huihui, who holds the Asian record with 67.98m. Annu, who has been throwing under 60m this season, came up with the continent’s season-best throw of 62.92m to finish top.
Jyothi Yarraji’s path to silver in the 100m hurdles was achieved amid much controversy. In the final, Yarraji was wrongly disqualified for a false start but was reinstated upon protest and ran the race to finish third.
China’s Yanni Wu, who had also been tagged for a false start, ran under protest to finish second, but was later disqualified, with Yarraji being elevated to a maiden Asiad silver, while China’s Yuwei Lin, quite expectedly, won gold.
Harmilan Bains twice took home silver in 800m and 1500m, but the 800m success would taste sweeter for the Indian, who overtook China’s Wang Chunyu in the last stretch of the race.
The likes of Neeraj Chopra, Kishore Kumar Jena (javelin), Tajinderpal Singh Toor (shot put), Avinash Sable (men’s 3000m steeplechase), Parul Chaudhary, and Priti Lamba (women’s 3000m steeplechase) all achieved podium places by beating China’s best. Long jumper Murali Sreeshankar won silver by beating Shi Yuhao but lost out on gold to the other Chinese Wang Jianan.
Ajay Kumar Saroj and Jinson Johnson in men’s 1500m, and Mohammed Afsal Pulikkalakath in men’s 800m also medalled in their respective races and did so by overcoming China’s best.
Aditi Ashok would be kicking herself for not seeing out her advantage of seven shots heading into the final round and taking gold ahead of China’s Xiyu Lin and Thailand’s Arpichaya Yubol. In the end, the Indian stumbled to finish behind Yubol but took the silver ahead of Lin.
Another result that might go under the radar would be the Indian men’s bridge team winning silver. The group of Sandeep Thakral, Jaggy Shivdasani, Raju Tolani, Rajeshwar Tiwari, Sumit Mukherjee, and Ajay Prabhakar Khare beat China in the semifinals but fell to Hong Kong in the final.