Asia enjoys monumental sports year

Successful World Cup hosting bid by Qatar, along with Indian, Chinese and Korean athletic triumphs, punctuate 2011.

Filipino world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao (2nd from right) is WBC super welterweight winner [Reuters]

Qatar’s success in winning the right to host the 2022 soccer World Cup, arguably sport’s greatest extravaganza, capped a glittering year for Asian sport which began with Olympic gold in Vancouver.

Kim Yuna carried the weight of expectation from 50 million South Koreans on her dainty shoulders for four exquisite minutes, being crowned Olympic champion on the Canadian ice with a record-smashing figure-skating programme.

“Now that it’s all over, looking back it seems like it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be,” Kim, 19, said. “I now believe I was born for this and winning this gold medal was my destiny.”

Another athlete seemingly touched by destiny was Manny Pacquiao, a Filipino who sealed his place in the pantheon of boxing greats by recording a unanimous points victory over Antonio Margarito to claim the WBC super welterweight title.

The 31-year-old landed an eighth world title in an unprecedented eighth weight class, adding to the growing argument that he is the best fighter of all time.

Sachin Tendulkar enjoyed a stellar year and was named the 2010 Cricketer of the Year, staving off challenges from Virender Sehwag, South African batsman Hashim Amla and England off-spinner Graeme Swann.

Earlier in the year, Tendulkar became the first player to score a double century in one-day international cricket and the first to accumulate 14,000 test runs, the former feat prompting the Times of India’s front page headline: “Immortal at 200”.

He finished the year by becoming the first man to score 50 test hundreds, dedicating his century against South Africa in Centurion to his father.

Chinese successes

India also had much to celebrate on the golf course when Arjun Atwal became the first Indian to win on the PGA Tour when he triumphed at the Wyndham Championship in North Carolina.

“It was a long-time dream of mine to win out here but until it happens you keep doubting yourself and, believe me, I had my doubts,” Atwal told reporters.

China’s athletes are rarely racked by doubt and their confidence was justified at the badminton world championships in Paris. For the first time since 1987 the Chinese swept all five titles on offer.

China made great inroads in tennis, too, boasting two players in the last four of a grand slam for the first time.

The nation’s “Golden Flowers”, Li Na and Zheng Jie, reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open women’s singles and, although they were beaten by Serena Williams and Justine Henin, their homeland feted their achievement.

The popular Beijing News tabloid led its sports pages with just two Chinese characters, “Tennis” and “Pride”.

New Zealand knows all about pride when it comes to rugby union and Graham Henry’s All Blacks cemented their place as favourites for the 2011 World Cup at home by sweeping all six Tri-Nations matches and winning 13 of their 14 tests in 2010.

Captain Richie McCaw, Henry and the team were rewarded for their scintillating play by picking up the International Rugby Board (IRB) awards for player, coach and team of the year.

After pre-event crises, bad publicity and the organisational blunders of the first few days made way for a fine festival of sport, New Delhi will perhaps be remembered for the Commonwealth Games that were not as bad as expected.

With 74 golds, Australians again dominated October’s Games, but it was the record 38 titles that hosts India accumulated that really helped to turn around the event, putting the focus back on sport and away from transport, venue and hygiene issues.

Pomp and circumstance

Weeks later, organisers of the Guangzhou Asian Games sought to repeat Beijing’s tightly controlled and successful 2008 Olympic Games by spending billions on new stadiums and infrastructure, while flooding the booming southern Chinese city with more than 100,000 security personnel to seal it from potential militant attacks and dissident voices.

Despite athlete quibbles ranging from transport to the Games’ far-flung venues to staff’s patchy English skills, the result was a largely hitch-free event bookended by spectacular opening and closing ceremonies for the nearly 10,000 athletes.

China’s dominance in almost every discipline and a programme giving millions of tickets to schoolchildren and public servants ensured mostly healthy crowds.

China’s record-breaking gold-medal haul also glossed over an embarrassing row over the disqualification of a Taiwanese taekwondo fighter that raised political hackles in the self-ruled island, while North and South Korean athletes kept their emotions largely in check despite the worst military flare-up in decades between the war-time foes.

In terms of sports organisation, though, the prize goes to Qatar, who were awarded the right to stage soccer’s World Cup with a bid characterised by “guts, gumption and glory”, according to local media.

The gulf state now plans to build a $25bn new rail network, an $11bn airport, a $5.5bn deep-water seaport and a $1-bn crossing linking its new airport with mega-projects in northern Doha. It will also spend an additional $20bn on new roads.

Source: News Agencies

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