Pan-tastic as teen swimmer adds to China's golden glow at Asian Games

Superb: Winner China's Pan Zhanle reacts after men's 100m freestyle final. - REUTERS/Marko Djurica

HANGZHOU:Chinese prodigy Pan Zhanle became the first Asian swimmer to break the 47-second mark in the 100m freestyle at the Asian Games on Sunday, while North Korea celebrated their return to major competition with a medal in the judo.

Zhanle stormed to gold in the Hangzhou pool with a scintillating time of 46.97 seconds, the fifth fastest ever, announcing himself as a major contender in the blue-riband event a year out from the Paris Olympics.

For all that, the 19-year-old's disappointed reaction was almost as remarkable as his swim.

"I think it was so-so. I had my eyes on the world record," said Zhanle. "To miss it by 0.11 seconds is quite a pity.

"The Asian record doesn’t feel like something extraordinary. This is something I should get."

The world record of 46.86 seconds is held by another 19-year-old wunderkind, Romanian David Popovici.

Zhanle's win was the highlight of the opening day of swimming, which saw China bagging all seven titles in the pool and 20 of 31 gold medals across all competitions.

Wang Shun, the Olympic men's 200m individual medley (IM) champion, also shone on the night after lighting the cauldron at the Games' spectacular opening ceremony.

His time of one minute 54.62 seconds for the 200 IM gold in Hangzhou made him the third fastest swimmer in the event after Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps.

The Olympic 200m butterfly champion Zhang Yufei also won her pet event with ease, posting an Asian Games record of two minutes 05:57 seconds.

"My first mission was to take the gold for China," said Yufei, flashing a beaming smile.

"Next was to beat (compatriot) Jiao Liuyang’s Games record, and I also did that.

"I actually felt the pool was a little slow for me... I felt I could have gone even faster."

China's neighbour and long-time ally North Korea arrived as an unknown quantity, with Hangzhou its first international multi-sport event since the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta.

The Covid-19 pandemic and an International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspension contributed to their long exile.

The 24-year-old judoka Chae Kwang-jin put his nation back on the map on Sunday as he battled to a bronze playoff in the 60-kg division then pulled off a double-leg take-down (morote-gari) of big Mongolian Ariunbold Enkhtaivan to secure the minor medal.

With their nations still technically at war, North and South Korean athletes are no longer marching together or competing under one flag.

But Kwang-jin shared an unsmiling handshake with South Korean runner-up Lee Harim after they received their medals.

The North Korean flag was hoisted during the medals ceremony and the nation's athletes paraded behind it at the opening ceremony -- despite it being banned from all major international competitions except the Olympics due to anti-doping issues. - Reuters

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