China proved they have arrived as a genuine Olympic superpower and both Koreas impressed — but Japan were top of the flops among Asian countries at the London Games.
China may not have repeated their feats of Beijing 2008, when they topped the medals table for the first time, but with 38 gold medals their presence in the top two, behind the US, was never in doubt.
South Korea were the only other Asian team in the top 10. North Korea, finishing 20th, had their best Games in 20 years, Hong Kong celebrated cycling bronze and Singapore won their first individual medal in 52 years.
India could not follow Beijing by claiming their second individual gold, but they finished with two silver medals and four bronze — their highest individual total.
Much as expected, China’s divers and badminton and table tennis players missed just two gold medals between them, and their weightlifters hoisted five titles at London’s Excel Centre.
However, China’s shooters were off-target compared with Beijing, winning only two golds, and their gymnasts dropped from seven victories in 2008 to three on the London apparatus.
China’s track hopes went up in smoke when 110m hurdler Liu Xiang, the 2004 champion, heart-breakingly limped out of the heats for the second Games running with a career-threatening Achilles tendon tear.
However, his brave hop down the track to the finish line, symbolic kiss of the last hurdle and embrace by his waiting competitors was one of the Games’ most memorable images.
Meanwhile Sun Yang and Ye Shiwen, 16, led China to their best performance in the pool, claiming two wins and a world record each as the team broke through with five titles in one of the Olympics’ top-tier events.
Sun became China’s first male Olympic swimming champion in the 400m freestyle and then broke the 1,500m world record for the second time in a year.
Ye set a new mark in the women’s 400m medley and also won the 200m medley, while Jiao Liuyang won the women’s 200m butterfly. Unproven doping speculation surrounding Ye was angrily dismissed by Sun.
“People think China has so many gold medals because of doping and other substances, but I can tell you it is because of hard work,” Sun said.
“It is all down to training and hard work that we have results. Chinese are not weaker than those in other countries,” he added.
China, South Korea and Indonesia were also embroiled in one of the Games’ worst scandals, when eight badminton players were disqualified for trying to lose group ties to secure easier quarter-finals.
South Korea’s peerless archers, included the legally blind Im Dong-hyun, hit the bull’s-eye with three out of four gold medals and their shooters added three more at the Royal Artillery Barracks.
They had two more in judo and two in fencing — but none for Shin A-lam, whose tearful, hour-long protest over her loss in the women’s epee semis won sympathy and media coverage, but no Olympic medal.
North Korea’s Games made an unpromising start when their women’s soccer players were pictured next to the South Korean flag on a stadium big screen, prompting a lengthy protest.
But tiny, 1.52m weightlifter Om Yun-chol put them on the gold trail when he lifted three times his bodyweight to win the under-56kg category with a world record-equaling 293kg.
Kim Un-guk and Rim Jong-sim also lifted their way to gold at the Excel Centre, while An Kum-ae got judo gold on the opening weekend as North Korea matched their best-ever haul of four titles at Barcelona in 1992.