Accidents, doping, controversies cloud 17th Asian Games

October 4, 2014
Gold medal moments for South Korea. (Yonhap)

Gold medal moments for South Korea. (Yonhap)

(Yonhap) The 17th Asian Games may have had many golden moments — 439 total to be exact — but it also had its share of lows that suggested the largest sporting event on the continent is never an easy one to organize.

For starters, the symbolic Asian Games cauldron, lit at the Sept. 19 opening ceremony, went out for 10 minutes the next day due to difficulties maintaining the complicated, fountain-shaped flame.

The cauldron had already drawn plenty of criticisms, having been lit by a local celebrity with no sports ties. Even in the long Olympic history, only three non-athletes have lit the flame, and critics said the organizers’ choice of local actress Lee Young-ae would have been more appropriate for a K-pop festival, not a sports one.

Sexual harassment was another big issue at the Asian Games, with an Iranian official being the first to get kicked out for verbally harassing a female volunteer at a stadium. Then there were two Palestinian football players who were investigated for alleged groping a local female official at the athletes’ village in Incheon, the host city west of Seoul.

The Olympic Committee of Asia (OCA) issued strong warnings against similar incidents shortly thereafter, but also called for the understanding of “different cultures” that may cause such problems.

“With different cultures, sometimes this creates a problem,” said OCA President Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah.

A total of six athletes failed their doping tests at the Asiad, with the most recent one being the Chinese hammer champion, Zhang Wenxiu. The three-time Asiad gold medalist tested positive for zeranol, a doping substance, and was stripped of her title Friday, the penultimate day of the sporting event.

The Asian Games also saw plenty of judging controversies. Indian boxer Sarita Devi drew media attention for hanging her bronze medal around the neck of South Korea’s Park Jin-a, who won silver after beating Devi in the semifinals. Devi later issued “an unconditional apology” for the drama.

North Korean football coach Yun Jong-su also got into a heated argument with the referees who oversaw the inter-Korean men’s gold medal match on Friday. The South Korean goal, which came at the very end of the second extra period and sealed the South’s win over the North 1-0, had come after the ball touched the hand of a North Korean midfielder near the goal line. Yun argued the referees gave mixed signals to the North Korean players.

“Tonight, an assistant referee raised his flag (to signal a penalty), but then the main referee kept the play going,” Yun said at the post-match press conference. “Because of the assistant referees, our players stopped in their tracks.”

Three Nepalese athletes went missing at the Asian Games after they were caught in the closed circuit footage in the athletes’ village, creeping out in an apparent attempt to find jobs as illegal immigrants. Previously at the Busan Asian Games in 2002, 16 athletes from Southeast and South Asian countries left their teams in secrecy to become illegals.

Perhaps the most bizarre accident of the Asian Games involved a Japanese swimmer who was caught stealing a DSLR camera from a South Korean photojournalist.

Naoya Tomita, 25, was expelled from his team immediately after he was found to have stolen the camera at the Munhak Park Tae-hwan Aquatics Center, the swimming arena in Incheon. He was the gold medalist in the men’s 200m breaststroke at the 2010 Asian Games, though he failed to medal at this year’s Games.