20 years on, Winter Asiad shows winter games for elite

Sapporo (Japan), Feb 26 (IANS) The Asian Winter Games in Sapporo didn’t welcome a new medal winner country until the penultimate day of the week-long event. Two decades after it was launched in Sapporo, the Asian version of the Winter Olympics remains dominated by an elite club of a few countries.

North Korea won its first medal in Sapporo on Saturday to become the only fifth country on the medals table as Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik finished third in the figure skating pairs event, reports Xinhua news agency.

Ahead of North Korea are Japan, South Korea, China and Kazakhstan — the typical “Big Four”, as always.

The list is short — and embarrassing, to the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), considering that 30 Asian delegations are competing for medals.

As the largest ever Games in number of participating delegations, the Sapporo Asiad also welcomed Australia and New Zealand to compete as guests, not for medals.

Only 10 countries have touched medals in eight versions of the Games. As for gold, the number is down to eight which includes three one-timers.

North Korea’s first and only gold came from the first Games in 1986 while Lebanon had one in 2003.

Uzbekistan claimed its sole Asiad gold in 1999 despite having reached the medals table four times.

With Asia set to host two straight Winter Olympics — PyeongChang in 2018 and Beijing in 2022, plus the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, the OCA is hoping the continent is living up to the billing as a hub of the Olympic Games.

OCA President Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah said he believed the Sapporo Games would open “a period of unprecedented growth” in winter sports throughout the continent.

Sheikh Ahmad expects China to play a bigger role in the popularisation of winter sports.

“China is expected to introduce 300 million people to winter sports during this period, so the next few years are pivotal in establishing a vast, new winter sports scene outside of the traditional markets of North America and Europe,” he said.

–IANS

pur/vt

Top