HANGZHOU: Hosts China will look to top the Asian Games swimming medals table for the first time since 2014 with confidence sky-high after the world championships.
New breaststroke king Qin Haiyang and two-time Olympic gold medallist Zhang Yufei will spearhead the home nation when the action begins in the pool in Hangzhou on Sunday. In the ongoing absence of three-time Olympic gold medallist Sun Yang, whose doping ban does not expire until next summer, Chinese swimmers claimed five gold, three silver and eight bronze medals at the world championships in Fukuoka in July.
The 24-year-old Qin dominated the men´s breaststroke, sweeping all three events and setting a new world record in the 200m. He was competing in his first international event but he blew the competition away, setting new Asian records in each of his three races.
Britain´s Adam Peaty skipped the world championships to concentrate on his mental health and Qin will be favourite to depose him as 100m Olympic champion in Paris next year.
"When I finished the race, that was the end of it -- now everything starts again with a new beginning," Qin said after his Fukuoka heroics.
"I will hang the medals on the wall and start a new challenge." Team-mate Zhang will also be confident after winning the women´s 100m butterfly world title in Japan.
Zhang beat a packed field that included Canada´s Olympic champion Maggie Mac Neil and American Torri Huske, and she also picked up a world silver in the 50m butterfly. Pan Zhanle will be another big medal hope for China in the men´s freestyle events.
It is not all about the Chinese team. South Korea´s Hwang Sun-woo will be a threat in the men´s freestyle, after following up his 200m silver from last year´s world championships in Budapest with a bronze in Fukuoka.
Compatriot Lee Ho-joon finished sixth in the final, and with Pan and Japan´s Katsuhiro Matsumoto also likely to compete in the 200m freestyle in Hangzhou, it could be one of the races of the championship.
Hong Kong´s Siobhan Haughey is a double Olympic freestyle silver medallist and in red-hot form heading into the Asian Games. She smashed her own Hong Kong national record in the 50m freestyle just weeks before the competition and is set to compete in four events in Hangzhou.
The 25-year-old said she was "trying not to think too much" about what she can achieve at the Games. "Both the 100m and 200m free are definitely my favourite events but you can never know who will suddenly swim really fast, or predict how other people will do," she told the South China Morning Post.
Japan, who edged China to finish top of the swimming medals table at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, head into this year´s competition in disarray. Long-time head coach Norimasa Hirai bowed out after the world championships and was then suspended for six months by the Japanese federation after launching a tirade on social media.
The row exposed the cracks in Japanese swimming after a disappointing world championships that brought the team only two bronze medals. One of those came from Daiya Seto, who finished third in the men´s 400m individual medley. The 16-year-old Mio Narita is another to watch, in the women´s medley events.
Rikako Ikee should also be a force to be reckoned with, four years on from being diagnosed with leukemia. In 2018, before her illness, Ikee became the first swimmer to win six golds at a single Asian Games.