Kitajima, Park duel on cards

Kitajima, Park duel on cards

China and Japan were locked at 16 gold apiece in swimming events at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha with South Korea — led by Park Tae-Hwan — trailing in a distant third.

The first day of action on Saturday sees six gold on offer, in the women’s 200m freestyle, 50m breaststroke, 100m butterfly — featuring Olympic women’s 200m butterfly runner-up Jiao Liuyang — and 4x100m medley relay.

In the men’s events, the 200m butterfly and 400m individual medley are up for grabs.
Men’s 800m freestyle world champion Zhang Lin, the world record holder in the event, is expected to spearhead the hosts’ gold-winning spree.

Butterfly star Liu Zige is missing but Jiao, women’s 50m backstroke world champion Zhao Jing, and men’s 1,500m freestyle world number one Sun Yang are top medal hopes.

Zhang’s match-ups with Olympic champion Park will a highlight, with the two heavyweights set to meet in the 200m, 400m and 1,500m freestyle events and the 4x200m freestyle relay. Zhang won silver behind the South Korean in the men’s 400m freestyle at the 2008 Olympics.

Japan’s Kitajima, who took gold in the 100m and 200m breaststroke at the 2004 Athens Olympics and retained both titles in Beijing, comes into the Asian Games in sparkling form after winning the 100m and 200m breaststroke at August’s Pan Pacific Championships. He is aiming for a third straight Asian Games double in the 100m and 200m but faces competition from Ryo Tateishi, ranked third in the world in the 100m.

Japan’s 26-strong team also includes men’s 100m backstroke world champion Junya Koga and Ryosuke Irie, who took silver in the men’s 200m backstroke at the 2009 world championships. Both are struggling to regain top form. Away from the top two Asian swimming powerhouses, the star of the pool could be South Korea’s Park, who dominated in Doha.

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