JAKARTA, Aug 19 (Reuters) - Sun Yang launched his quest for a possible five-title haul at the Asian Games by finally landing the 200-metres freestyle crown as China won four of seven golds on the first night of competition in the pool on Sunday.
The 26-year-old Olympic and world champion had been pushed into silver at the two previous Games but made no mistake in Jakarta with a commanding victory in one minute and 45.43 seconds.
Gunning for gold in every freestyle event from the 200 to the 1,500 and also a likely relay team member, Sun increased his gold medal tally at Asian Games to six over three editions.
Three of those came four years ago in Incheon after he had served a doping ban, a suspension that has soured his relations with some of his rivals and threatened to sully his legacy.
His compatriots have always backed him passionately, however, and a huge cheer erupted from a large Chinese contingent when he came out onto the deck.
Fifth at the first turn and fourth at the second, Sun stamped his class on the race from the third lap, storming home more than a second clear of Japan’s Katsuhiro Matsumoto.
Sun straddled the lane rope to acknowledge the applause of his fans around the Gelora Bung Karno Aquatic Centre before smashing the water in delight at finally claiming the title.
“I can say it’s like a dream come true, I’ve waited eight years for this gold medal and not many swimmers have had to wait that long,” he told reporters.
“Maybe people were worried about my 200 as I’m concentrating on the distance events but I’ve trained hard and I took my chance. The result was perfect.
“I want to have a good rest and continue the meet to help Team China win other events.”
The medal ceremony did not go as smoothly with the flags clattering to the deck as they were being raised, forcing Sun to stand on the podium as the March of the Volunteers was played again with military personnel holding up the three standards.
Asia’s other swimming world champion, Xu Jiayu, then celebrated his 23rd birthday with victory in the 100m backstroke, his winning time of 52.34 the second best in the world this year and matching Ryosuke Irie’s Games’ record.
Japan’s Irie was going for a third straight title in the event but had to settle for silver.
Wang Jianjiahe had given China the perfect start to the evening in the inaugural women’s 1,500m freestyle final, resisting a late charge from compatriot Li Bingjie to touch the wall in 15:53.68.
Her compatriot Liu Yaxin also needed a strong finish to hold off Japanese teenager Natsumi Sakai and take gold in the 200m backstroke in 2:07.65.
Japan, looking to make a statement two years out from the Tokyo Olympics, finally got a gold on the board with a one-two in the women’s 100m breaststroke, Satomi Suzuki (1:06.40) edging compatriot Reona Aoki by five hundredths of a second.
The Japanese did not have to wait long for a second gold-silver sweep with Daiya Seto (1:54.53) leading home Nao Horomura in the next race, the men’s 200m butterfly.
The evening finished with a thrilling battle between Asia’s swimming superpowers in the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay which Chihiro Igarashi clinched for Japan in a Games record time of 3:36.52 with a blistering anchor leg. (Additional reporting by Jessica Damiana Editing by Christian Radnedge)