Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Guangzhou Asian Games 2010

Head Bangingly Good Kabaddi (sounds best in its original Indian accent)

I decided to turn myself into an ostrich for a little while by watching the Guangzhou Asian Game to distract me from thinking about the unpleasant game they're playing in the Korean Peninsula and the water of Yellow Sea. With sport events of the Games beaming into 6 glorious Starhub channels, I can watch while bury my head deep in sands up to my eyeballs. I wish my harddrive has more space for the recordings (I can't watch all 6 channels at the same times unless I have 6 TV sets and 6 heads. I'm a man, I'm no good at multi-tasking. I'm a greenie, having 6 heads violates my principle. Oh, ditto for 6 TV sets).

Although the Games isn't taken place in Singapore, I'm actually got into more than the YOG. We've even got the souvenir while Atta visited her folks in Guangzhou just 2 weeks before the Games Opening of the XVI Asiad.

This is a first time I watched the Asiad. I didn't get to watch the Asian Games in Sydney. Only the Olympic Games. As it turns out, the Asian Game is an off-shoot of the Olympic Movement. The Asian Games is overseen by OCA (Olympic Council of Asia), whose president is the Kuwaiti government minister, and also a member of IOC.

If you think that because the Asian Games is a spin-off of the Summer Olympic Games, and has fewer participating countries (46 NOCs), therefore it's a smaller games, then you would be dead wrong. Dead I say. On top of the 26 Summer Olympic sports, it also adds another 18 sports. It's almost 3/4 larger than the Summer Olympic Games as far as the number of sports is concerned.

In these additional sports, some were previous sports in the Summer Olympic Games but have been discontinued - e.g. cricket, baseball, softball, etc. Others like squash and cue sports were never part of he Summer Olympic Games. Some are simply games that played by only Asian, and you're unlikely to have heard about it unless you live in Asia. Games like sepak takraw, and kabaddi. Some sports were in fact introduced to the Summer Games AFTER being introduced into the Asian Games. So Asian Games isn't just bigger, but trail blazer in some areas. Quite the opposite impression that I had (and I imagined many people have) when first heard about the Asian Games.

The game of Sepak Takraw is widely played in SE Asia, including Vietnam where I was born. I have to say I had never seen it played in my childhood. I must have lived a sheltered life, not! Surprisingly this 16th Asiad was the first time I've seen this game being played. It's appropriately also called kicked volleyball in the West. It's like volleyball where the ball is kicked instead of hit by hand over the net, which is 1.52m tall (1.42m for women). In soccer you sometimes see those impressive high kicks being done once in a blue moon. In sepak takraw, it's done in every spike (this is a volleyball term, don't know if this game use the same term). Players have to kick above the net, therefore higher than 1.52m; their heads are only inches from the ground as the kick are being executed. Jackie Chan would be impressed by their athleticism. Expectantly SE Asian countries like Malaysia and Thailand are the strong contenders in these games. After all, the name 'sepak takraw' is derived from the languages of these 2 countries. Thailand got gold, Malaysia got silver, and Japan and S. Korea got bronze in this 16rh Asiad. You can easily find their final matches from Youtube.

What about this video clip from youtube of 'Bruce Lee' playing 'ping-pong' with a pair of nunchucks? Another twists of Tom Hanks playing 'ping-pong' in Forrest Gump for the Ping-Pong Diplomacy in 1971 that spearheaded the Sino-US relationship. Quite spectacular special effects. Bruce Lee, incidentally, begun his meteoric rise to stardom also in early 1970s.

As I've never seen sepak takraw being played while growing up in Vietnam, can't say it brings back memory. But kabaddi brings back dollops of nostalgia, especially memories growing up in Australia! (oh, memories growing up in Vietnam too). This flashback comes from one of the many trips to the beaches (in this case, Sutherland Beach if memory serves). One could play many games on the beach (not in the water, but on the sands) - frisbee, volleyball, throwing the stick to the dog, etc. But all of these games involve bringing along something like a frisbee, ball, racket of some kind. What game could we play if we didn't bring along anything (we weren't known to be organized)? We could do wrestling, or karate, not! Besides they are not team sports that would involve the whole gang (there were more than 10 of us). We didn't want to leave anyone out. Kabaddi is the only game I could think of that met all these criteria. Also, since not all of us were born in SE Asia, we thought we would pass on this bits of culture to the outsiders.

The game proceeded merrily, as I crossed the line to the other side, Arnie and Darren tried to tackle me from both sides by leaping towards me. I leapt away to avoid having my body being reshaped into an hour-glass figure by the two incoming testosterone powered locomotives. Without my cushioned presence, the two trains had a disastrous head-on collision. Since the skins on the foreheads are quite thin, they broke easily, and blood gushed out freely. The two rushed themselves to the nearest clinic.
They each received 6 or 7 stitches. While their leaky heads were being stitched up, we struggled to explain the rule of the game to the doc, who was, of course, clueless about sepak takraw. In fact, we didn't even know the name of the game, and called it 'Woooh' because that's the sound one has to make to show that one is holding a single breath.

There're 3 forms of the game (as described in the above Wiki link). The one that being played in the Guangzhou Asian Game is the simplest, while the one the blood sport we played is somewhat more complicated than the official game and involves the rescue your own team players from the other side of the field. This was where we had problem trying to explain to the doc.

DPRK and ROK could KO in taekwondo (try to say these words quickly), kicking each other with their national sport senselessly in the friendly game in the Asiad. At least the rules are clear here and they listened to the umpires, and play fair. Unlike the 2 Korean leaders who wouldn't listen to the referees of China and USA, and the rules of the games aren't clear, and are being made up as they go. Pollies in the West are urging PRC to exert pressure on DPRK leader, who is quite recalcitrant, to play ball. The report of PRC's influence over DPRK is greatly exaggerated.

Because there're more sport events and fewer NOCs, that translates more medals for few participating member countries, you end up with country like China winning one gold medal shy of 2 centuries (in cricket terminology). This kinda of medal tally is quite unlikely in the Summer Olympiad. Unlike the YOC, the players in these Asiad are actually the same ones that appear in the Summer Olympiad, so this is like a preview of Asian athletes competing in the coming London Summer Olympiad in less than 2 years time. The 1990 Beijing Asian Games was the turning point for China to pick up her games in both the Asian Games and by proxy the Summer Olympic Games. It also prepared Beijing for the hosting of the 2008 Beijing Games. I'm looking forward to the next Asian Games, assuming I'm still living in Singapore (not too likely. But you never know).

In this XVI Asiad, the new 'sport' of chess was ushered in. Speaking of Guangzhou and mental gymnastics being described as 'sport', soon after the Asian Games closed and even before the Asian Para Games started, Guangzhou hosts another international 'sport' of the 19th World Memory Championships. As this competition was started by Tony Buzan1 in UK, most of the early champions were Brits. Recently the Germans, followed by Chinese are stealing titles from the Pommies. I assume photos of these champions are posted in casinos around the world to bar them from entries? The house rules.
[1]  I read 2 of his books some 20 years ago (or was it 30?). Can't say I put them to work fully. I wanted to enter this championships a few months ago, but I forgot to enrol.

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