Busan is bursting as Asian Games begin

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Busan is bursting as Asian Games begin

It's easy to snag a ticket for the Busan Asian Games. Booking a hotel is another matter.

All the super-deluxe, deluxe and A-class hotels in the resort area of Haeundae are booked.

"We're turning away requests from diplomats," said one beleaguered hotel reservationist.

The 14th Busan Asian Games has created a massive amount hype, mainly because of the presence of athletes from one nation -- North Korea.

Already, 61,000 foreign tourists have converged in the port city to celebrate the Asian Games, attend the Busan Biennale and watch the North Koreans, who have been missing from the games for nearly two decades.

North Korea boycotted the 1986 Seoul Asian Games, and only decided to join the Busan Asian Games at the last minute. Athletes from East Timor and Afghanistan will also be attending, making this the largest Asian Games in history.

About 10,000 athletes from 44 Asian nations are competing this year. The Busan Asian Games opens Sunday and ends Oct. 14.

The first regional competition was the 1913 Eastern Olympic Games in Manila. The Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, Malaysia and Hong Kong competed.

The Olympic Council of Asia was created in 1982. The Asian Games have been held every four years since. Today, there are 38 events ranging from swimming, fencing and sailing to more obscure sports such as sepak takraw and wushu.

Many of the athletes are lodged at the Asian Game Village. The officials and tourists are scattered throughout Haeundae; the unlucky ones are further afield.

September and October are normally off season for visiting Haeundae. But these days, the streets are filled with tourists sipping Starbucks and more powerful drinks, particularly around the Harbortown area. The nights, once again, are like the summer's, filled with music as live bands perform outdoors.

"The Busan Asian Games feels more like a melting pot than the World Cup," one Busan resident observed.

Unlike the Korea-Japan World Cup, which drew 32 teams from 32 countries to stadiums in the two countries, the Busan Asian Games packs participants and spectators into one concentrated area.

Surprisingly, though, ticket sales have been sluggish. Only 13 percent of stadium, on average, is filled. Hotels are another matter.

"We need more support from Busan residents," one local observed. At least, they can go home to sleep after the day's events.



Sepak takraw is similar to volleyball, but the net is much lower and the players aren't allowed to use their hands.

Wushu is from China, where "wu" means military and "shu" means art. Wushu is the art of martial arts, emphasizing speed and form.

Kabaddi is a 4,000-year-old Indian game that resembles capture the flag -- without a flag. Two seven-member teams face each other on a court. A "raider" from the offense charges the defense, tagging as many people as possible. Kabaddi requires speed, stamina and agility.


China is

considered this year's front-runner,

with strong teams in rowing, basketball, track and field, gymnastics, shooting, swimming, wushu, volleyball and weightlifting.


Name: Wang Liqin

Country: China

Sport: Men's Table Tennis

Table Tennis belongs to Asia, according to Liu Fengyan, director of China's Table Tennis and Badminton Center. Liu predicts there will be fierce competition between South and North Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, China and Singapore, particularly in the men's singles and women's doubles.

Among the strongest: China's Wang Liqin and Kong Lingjui in men's singles. Wang brings to the table a fierce attack. Kong brings an aggressive topspin.


Name: Anjali Vedpathak Bhagwat

Country: India

Sport: Women’s Shooting

Anjali Vedpathak Bhagwat is thought to be the best shot in the world. The 33-year-old, who is known for her rapt concentration, has already qualified for the Athens Summer Olympics in 2004.

Bhagwat won the silver medal at the Munich World Cup women’s 10-meter air rifle competition in August. Her score of 399 shattered the existing Olympic record of 397 set by South Korea’s Kang Cho-hun at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Bhagwat has won admiration in a country that has only recently begun to actively promote its female athletes.

The Busan games brings together top rifle contenders not only from India, but also China and Korea. While Korea has the home advantage, Bhagwat is considered the front-runner.


Name: Francisco Bustamante

Country: Philippines

Sport: Billiards

Cue: Bear Custom 19.5 oz, 12.5 mm shaft

The original decision to bar Francisco Bustamante from the Busan Asian Games had pulses pounding.

His fans went mad, charging that he was barred from the games for being too good rather than a pro.

Bustamante's credentials speak for him. In 1998, he was named Player of the Year by the U.S.-based magazine Billiards Digest. In the 1990s, he dominated tournaments in Las Vegas, United States, Japan and the United Kingdom.

After months of deliberation, Bustamante was allowed to compete in the Asian Games. His opponents fear his long shots, consistency and his combination shots.

Along with Bustamante, the Philippines is sending 325 athletes and coaches to Busan.


Name: Kye Sun-hui

Country: North Korea

Sport: Woman's Judo

Kye Sun-hui did the unthinkable during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. She beat the odds-on favorite, Ryoko Tamura of Japan, in the 52 kilogram class of women's judo.

Four years later, at the Sydney Olympics, Kye narrowly missed the gold in the 58-kilogram class. She won a bronze with a Bodavelli pick-up maneuver.

She is one of 184 North Korean athletes competing in Busan. Her country's top-ranked contenders include Ri Song-hui and Choe Un-sim in women's weightlifting, Ri Kyong-ok in women's judo, marathoners Ham Pong-sil and Kim Chang-ok, and Kang Yong-gyun in wrestling.

To keep competition lively -- and politically correct -- 2,000 South Korean fans have been chosen to cheer for the North Korean teams.


Name: Hyun Hee

Country: South Korea

Sport: Women's Fencing

Hyun Hee was an unknown when she entered the World Fencing Championships in Lisbon this August. Which is why her win at over Lora Fleshell of France, who won two gold medals in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, was such a shock. Hyun shot up the ranks from No. 129 to No. 1.

Hyun's win, along with Ku Kyo-dong's bronze in the men's World Fencing Championships, and Kim Young-ho's gold in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, have increased Korea's interest in fencing.

At the Busan Asian Games, Hyun will be facing China's Wei-wei Shen, whom she beat 15 to 14 at the World Championships. Hyun's opponents will have to watch her speed and skills at garde and contre-six.

#South Korea is sending 770 athletes, its largest contingent ever, to Busan.

by Joe Yong-hee

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