Olympic champions vie for gold in pool

Olympic champions vie for gold in pool

China's Sun Yang during training session at the Aquatics center of the Asian Games in Jakarta on Saturday. AFP

China’s medal machine Sun Yang heads a handful of reigning Olympic champions, and host of aspirant Tokyo 2020 gold medallists, looking to make a statement in the Asian Games pool over the next week.

While the Asiad does not often provide world class competition in the big Olympic sports - Kosuke Kitajima in 2002 was the last swimmer to post a world record time at the Games - it can provide valuable experience for aspiring champions.

Sun, Singapore’s Joseph Schooling, Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan and Japan’s Kosuke Hagino all won one or more golds in the Incheon pool four years ago and followed up with Olympic titles in Rio in 2016.

Japanese breaststroke specialist Rie Kaneto, Asia’s other Olympic swimming champion in Brazil, retired earlier this year but the other four will all compete in Jakarta.

China and Japan are the unquestioned continental swimming superpowers and shared 34 of the 38 swimming gold medals at the last Asian Games with Schooling and Balandin accounting for the other four.

Schooling, who skipped the Commonwealth Games earlier this year, will have a heavy schedule as the mainstay of the Singapore relay team and having added the 50 metres freestyle to his programme.

The 23-year-old has shed four kilogrammes in weight and is likely to be in better shape for his 100m butterfly title defence than he was when he was beaten by India’s Virahawal Khade at the Singapore meet earlier this year.

Balandin, who like Schooling is the first athlete from his nation to win Olympic gold in any sport, swept the breaststroke titles in Incheon but will face a strong challenge in Jakarta from rising talent Ippei Watanabe.