Asian swim giants trade blows as Schooling breezes to win

Alastair HIMMER
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Singapore's Joseph Schooling broke the stranglehold of China and Japan, who had hitherto won every gold medal on offer, by retaining his Asian crown in the 100 metres butterfly

China and Japan hurled bombs at each other in the Asian Games pool on Wednesday before Singapore's Olympic champion Joseph Schooling finally pierced the armour of the swimming superpowers.

Chinese juggernaut Sun Yang and Japan's Rikako Ikee saw history bids put on ice as the two countries vied for dominance in Jakarta, ending a pulsating evening tied on 14 gold medals apiece with two days left.

Schooling broke the stranglehold of China and Japan, who had hitherto won every gold medal on offer, by retaining his Asian crown in the 100 metres butterfly.

The 23-year-old, who stunned Michael Phelps in Rio two years ago to win Singapore's first-ever Olympic title in any sport, breezed to victory in a Games best 51.04 seconds with China's Li Zhuhao a distant second.

"I've had an up and down last two years," said Schooling, who returned to the pool to help Singapore take bronze in the 4x100m freestyle.

"But that's part of the cycle. You can't always be in tip-top shape but what's important is to step up and grind it through -- that's what defines a champion."

Roared on by a travelling army of racily dressed cheergirls, Sun failed in his bid to capture a record ninth Asian Games swimming gold for China, victim of a Japanese ambush in the 4x100m free.

But barring unforeseen disaster, the three-time Olympic champ will reach the mark in the 1,500m free on the final day of competition.

"I only got the call to swim the relay this morning," revealed Sun, who has already scooped gold in the 200, 400 and 800m freestyle this week.

"But I swam great and we did everything we could -- the Japanese sprinters are simply faster at the moment, that's a fact."

- Golden girl Ikee -

Japan's Ikee will also have to wait to equal countrywoman Yoshimi Nishigawa's five gold medals at a single Asian Games in 1970 and 1974.

But the 18-year-old, who has tasted victory in the 50 fly, 100 fly, 100 free and the 4x100m free, still collected her sixth medal -- a silver behind China in the mixed 4x100 medley relay.

Meanwhile, Olympic champion Kosuke Hagino, who claimed a magnificent seven medals at the 2014 Asian Games, was upset by fellow Japanese Daiya Seto in the 400m individual medley.

Seto inflicted a punishing defeat on the favourite and title holder to win in 4:08.79.

Hagino, who has struggled with form since his Rio success, touched in 4:10.30, ahead of Wang Shun of China's 4:12.31.

"That felt great," said Seto, who also bagged gold in the 200m fly earlier in the week. "It's a big boost looking forward to the Tokyo Olympics."

Earlier, Japan's Yasuhiro Koseki robbed Olympic champ Dmitriy Balandin of his Asian crown in the 100m breaststroke, setting a Games record of 58.86 ahead of China's Yan Zibei (59.31) just 24 hours after winning the 200m gold.

Kazakh hero Balandin, who has suffered a lengthy Rio hangover and admitted after the heats that he was considering retirement, took bronze.

Sixteen-year-old Li Bingjie took gold in the women's 200m free, before Zhang Yufei added another gold to China's impressive haul by winning the women's 200m fly.