INCHEON, September 27- Teenaged Bahrain steeplechaser Ruth Jebet was dramatically stripped of gold just before she mounted the podium on Saturday as the Asian Games athletics started in a storm of controversy.
The Kenya-born runner comfortably won but as she stood behind the podium, with China’s Li Zhenzhu and India’s Lalita Babar already wearing their medals, her disqualification was announced to the stunned stadium.
The 17-year-old was led away in tears and China’s Li celebrated her sudden promotion to gold, giving the double thumbs-up and posing with her national flag.
Jebet had annihilated the Games record by more than 24 seconds but officials saw that on her last lap, with nobody nearby, she stumbled and stepped inside the track.
Bahraini officials fumed over the decision, with one calling it a “disgrace”. They descended en masse on the referees’ office, before later conceding Jebet’s error.
It made for a stormy end to a first night of athletics when Africa-born athletes dominated the opening track events.
Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia reaches for a shot from Minh Tien Nguyen of Vietnam during his men’s singles qualifying badminton match of the 2014 Incheon Asian Games on September 27, 2014
© AFP Ed Jones
Along with Jebet, who switched nationality last year, United Arab Emirates’ Ethiopian-origin Alia Saeed Mohammed crossed first in the women’s 10,000m.
“This is the most awesome day of my life,” she said.
Qatar’s Mohamad Al-Garni, originally from Morocco, smashed a 20-year-old Games record as he won the men’s 5,000m ahead of Bahrain’s Alemu Bekele Gebre and Albert Kibichii Rop.
Li’s officially confirmed elevation to steeplechase gold would make her the second Chinese winner of the night after Gong Lijiao triumphed in the women’s shot-put.
And it was a momentous night for Iran when Leyla Rajabi took silver behind Li to become the Islamic republic’s first Asian Games athletics medal-winner.
– Poolside pilfering –
Japan’s Naoya Tomita competes in the heats for the men’s 100m breaststroke swimming event during the 17th Asian Games at the Munhak Park Tae-hwan Aquatics Centre in Incheon on September 24, 2014
© AFP/File Philippe Lopez
The athletics got underway in a near-empty stadium after the Games confronted a new non sport controversy. Japanese swimmer Naoya Tomita, 25, admitted stealing a $7,500 photographer’s camera from the pool deck and was expelled from the Games.
South Korean prosecutors are now considering whether to press charges and Tomita will have to pay for his own ticket back to Japan when allowed to leave, officials said.
“I want offer my sincerest apologies that such a regrettable incident has happened amid the excitement of the Asian Games,” said Japan’s chef de mission Tsuyoshi Aoki.
Tomita joined a list of expulsions which also includes two athletes who failed drugs tests and an Iranian official who sexually harassed a volunteer.
Domestic media have laid into organisers over the Games’ organisation and low ticket sales, with many venues starkly empty over the opening week.
Gold medallist United Arab Emirates’s Alia Mohammed Saeed Mohammed poses with her medal on the podium during the victory ceremony for the women’s 10,000m athletics event during the 17th Asian Games in Incheon on September 27, 2014
© AFP Philippe Lopez
But organising committee chief Kwon Kyung-Sang told AFP the aim was to hold a low-cost Games that will put Incheon on the map and won’t overburden it with debt.
“The Asiad must be held in a very efficient and economical way. This a message we want to deliver to other countries seeking to host the Asiad,” Kwon said.
“Unlike previous Asian Games seen as a party for sports powerhouses, we are trying to make an event shared by small countries,” he said.
Japan loosened China’s hold on the men’s basketball, an event it has ruled with the likes of Yao Ming, with a 79-72 upset which left the champions on the verge of elimination.
Veteran badminton stars Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan set up a crunch semi-final clash in what looks likely to be one of their last encounters on the big stage.
“I don’t know when I or Lee Chong Wei will retire, so I cherish every opportunity to play against him,” said China’s Olympic champion Lin, 30.
Among Sunday’s highlights, South Korea and Japan meet in the men’s football quarter-finals in a repeat of their explosive London Olympics medal-decider which ended in a political row.