2012 a bittersweet year for athletes across Asia

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2012 a bittersweet year for athletes across Asia

SYDNEY - Another shower of gold at the Olympics confirmed China’s status as the powerhouse of Asian sport but there were few standout performances away from London for the continent’s top sporting talents to crow about in 2012.

The likes of Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao and Chinese tennis player Li Na had years ranging from the mediocre to the downright disastrous.

Brilliant performances from swimmers Sun Yang and Ye Shiwen led the way as China won 38 golds in London to finish second on the medals table, but there was controversy as well as glory for the Chinese.

China was furious at suspicions of doping levelled at Ye, shamed by the scandal involving their badminton team and stunned by the second successive Olympic failure of hurdler Liu Xiang.

Korea’s heavy investment in Olympic success also paid healthy dividends with 13 golds and a best-ever finish of fifth on the medals table, pushing them ahead of traditional middle-ranking powers Germany, France, Australia and Japan.

While the Chinese remained Olympic pacesetters, in football they continued their long pattern of underachievement despite the presence of Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka in their domestic league.

Instead, it was their Japanese and Korean neighbors who again shared Asian bragging rights in the world’s most popular sport.

Japan was in a class of its own on the international stage with a number of eye-catching performances as it moved to the brink of being the first team to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Alberto Zaccheroni’s side made a major breakthrough by beating France 1-0 in a friendly in Paris and Shinji Kagawa moved to Manchester United in June.

Ulsan Hyundai became the third K-League club in four years to win the Asian Champions League, going unbeaten through the continent’s top club competition and clinching the title with a 3-0 win over Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia.

While Ulsan’s triumph was a welcome turnaround after the Korean match-fixing scandal of 2011, controversy continued to dog Asian football.

The governing Asian Football Confederation spent the year trying to rid themselves of suspended president Mohamed bin Hammam, long after the Qatari was first banned by FIFA for alleged bribery in May 2011.

Indonesian clubs remained stuck in the middle of a dispute over governance of the sport in the nation and Paraguayan striker Diego Mendieta was left to die in a hospital waiting on four months’ wages owed by his former club.

Pacquiao, arguably the greatest ever pound-for-pound boxer, stood at a crossroads at the end of 2012 after a stunning knockout at the hands of Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez in December handed him a second defeat of the year.

The 34-year-old Filipino, who has won world titles in an unprecedented eight weight divisions, may fight again but it was a signal that his illustrious career may be drawing to a close.

Li won a WTA title at Cincinnati and reached three other finals to cement her position as a top 10 player but she never got past the fourth round at a grand slam in her attempts to back up her breakthrough 2011 French Open triumph.

Reuters
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