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China, Korea brace for Asiad

str/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE AN Se-young, the world No. 1 badminton player, will banner the South Korean squad in the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China.

BEIJING, China (AFP) — Chinese athletes must “improve their political awareness” and “be good hosts” when the 19th Asian Games start next week in Hangzhou.

The Games, set to open on 23 September after a year’s delay because of Covid, and the hosts will be expected to hoover up the medals after topping the table at every edition of the competition since 1982.

For China’s ruling Communist Party, it is an opportunity to showcase the country’s sporting, organizational and technological prowess, having been largely closed off during the pandemic.

The home nation will have 886 athletes in action, among them 36 Olympic champions.

“All delegation members must improve their political awareness and firmly remember the great causes of the nation,” General Administration of Sport director Gao Zhidan told athletes in Beijing on Tuesday.

Gao urged them to display “good spirit and sporting ethics” and “win glory for the country,” according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

“Be good hosts, conduct extensive friendly exchanges and demonstrate our country’s good image of reform and opening up, economic development, and social progress to Asian and international communities,” Gao said.

A record of 12,500 athletes — more than the Olympics — from 45 countries and regions are set to compete this year.

Teams from Asia and the Middle East will battle for medals across 40 sports from athletics and swimming to E-sports and breakdancing.

Meanwhile, the Asian Games will be a “new beginning” for South Korean sport with badminton world No. 1 An Se-young spearheading the country’s largest-ever team at the competition.

South Korea has consistently finished second in the medals table behind China at the Games, but slipped to third in 2018, with China and Japan ahead of them.

“This year’s Asian Games will mark the new beginning for South Korean sports,” Yonhap News Agency quoted Lee Kee-heung, president of the Korean Sport and Olympic Committee, as saying on Tuesday in Seoul.

“We have been making progress in many different sports and have seen the emergence of young athletes.”

“I can’t wait to see our athletes tackle challenges at this year’s Asian Games.”

Chief among South Korea’s hopes for gold is the 21-year-old An, who has enjoyed a breakout year, rising to No. 1 in women’s badminton and winning the world title.

The Games were postponed by a year because of Covid and An believes those extra 12 months have been to her benefit.

“I think this past year has given me an opportunity to grow,” Yonhap quoted her as saying.

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