GUANGZHOU, China (Reuters) - China’s biggest sporting spectacle since the 2008 Olympics came to a close on Saturday with fireworks and a flotilla of light-encrusted boats giving thousands of Asian Games athletes a memorable send-off.
Following the Olympics and the Shanghai Expo, the Games will almost certainly be hailed as another symbol of China’s growing global clout and their athletes feted for topping the medal charts by a mile with a record haul of 199 golds.
The booming southern Chinese city of Guangzhou pumped billions into hosting the multi-sport event and while less welcomed by residents than the Beijing Games, a massive security operation ensured the 16th Asiad passed trouble-free.
“Without a doubt, this has been one of the most outstanding (Asian Games),” said Olympic Council of Asia president Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah during a lavish closing ceremony that capped the tightly controlled and largely hitch-free Games.
Athletes gathered beneath a towering cauldron and swayed to leather-clad Korean pop sensation Rain when he took to the stage with a rendition of “Bad Boy” as part of the handover to the next host city, South Korea’s Incheon, in 2014.
Security forces were meanwhile on high alert in the centre of Guangzhou, blocking off roads and patrolling the waters off Haixinsha island, the venue of the closing ceremony.
While world-beating sport was rare, the 15 days of competition boasted a number of stand-outs.
China’s Liu Xiang lived up to the hype, the 110m high hurdler expelling some demons from his disastrous Olympic title defence in Beijing by storming to a third successive Asian title with his best time in years.
South Korean teenage archery sensation Kim Woo-jin broke a world record on the way to two golds. China’s Li Ping set world marks in the women’s weightlifting, while Sun Yang was a second off Australian Grant Hackett’s 1500m freestyle world record.
South Korean swimmer Park Tae-hwan notched three golds among seven medals to equal his haul at the 2006 Doha Games.
China, dominant throughout, ended the party just as they had begun it, their women volleyballers sinking South Korea for the Games’ final gold.
For military-ruled Myanmar, there was late glory with two final-day golds in the men’s and women’s doubles sepaktakraw, but the women’s tight victory over China proved too dramatic for team leader Nyan Htun who fainted and was sent to hospital on a stretcher.
In a region riven by diplomatic disputes, organisers’ hopes of a harmonious Games were also tested by the disqualification of a Taiwanese taekwondo fighter and the worst military flare-up in decades between North and South Korea.
Female taekwondo competitor Yang Shu-chun’s ban for bringing unauthorised sensors into the competition fanned anger in Taiwan and became an unlikely election campaign issue in the self-ruled island which China claims sovereignty over.
North and South Korea athletes fought tooth and nail from the wrestling mat to the chess hall, but their archers stood side by side on a podium, while two of their wrestlers embraced, if awkwardly, after a bout.
Organisers were also embarrassed into issuing another 400,000 new tickets after claims of sold-out events were mocked by half-full stadiums and ticket touts brazenly operating at venues.
While China’s athletes dominated, the numbers did not quite add up for the delegation’s chiefs who worried about under-performance in athletics, shooting, fencing and wrestling.
“Although we have a relatively large amount of gold medals, only a few attained world standards and most lacked Olympic standard,” deputy chef de mission Duan Shijie told reporters.
“The situation in the lead-up to the London Olympics is grim and we cannot rest on our laurels.”
Japan lost their battle for runner-up bragging rights to South Korea, who managed 76 golds to their rivals’ 48 and cut into Japan’s traditional strongholds of judo, wrestling and swimming.
“Our results are not good and this is Japan’s sporting level in Asia right now. It’s painful but we have to recognise that,” Japan chef de mission Noriyuki Ichihara said.
Bangladesh were thrilled just to grab one gold, and their first in Games history, when they beat Afghanistan’s refugee camp-raised cricketers in the Twenty20 final of cricket’s debut.
Additional reporting by Ian Ransom, Meg Shen and Sabrina Mao; Editing by Dave Thompson; To query or comment on this story email email@example.com