A Tribute To 10 Top Asian Sportsmen Around Today
Being part Chinese, part Irish I was at once pleased that Yang finally landed Asia's first major but also somewhat disappointed Irishman Padraig Harrington harikaried the eighth, ending the defending champions hopes.
The biggest story was neither Harrington, nor even Woods however, but Yang.
After Y.E Yang's historic capture of the 91st US PGA Championship it now seems appropriate to highlight some of Asia's top sportsmen currently active in professional sport today.
While its undoubtedly true that many Asians have yet to embrace many of the games and sports we have come to appreciate here in the West, the recent hosting of major Western sporting events like the Olympics in Beijing in 2008 and the joint Korean-Japanese hosting World Cup in 2002 have opened many Asians up to the idea of taking up sports like soccer, basketball, cricket and indeed even rugby (many believe the 2019 RWC is a dead cert to be hosted by Japan).
With that in mind we now chart Asia's current frontline of sporting ambassadors.
Y.E Yang (Golf)
The above picture is at once historically significant yet profoundly ironic as far as the golf world is concerned.
Let's face it, nobody seen Yang winning the PGA championship. While Asian golfers have indeed come close before, there was nothing titillating about this previously 110th in the world ranked golfer to suggest he would win out after four grueling days of play against the world's elite golfers.
But after an exhilarating and nail-biting face-off for this year's last major, Yang's almost contradictory nerves of steel yet occasional delightful exuberance (those fist pumps, waves to the crowd and that celebration with the caddy bag were hilarious) won out over golf's finest, Tiger Woods.
Of course, the irony here is not that a rank underdog beat out Woods, Harrington and co. to the trophy (and gave Woods his first major barren year since 2004) but that Tiger himself has massive Asian heritage too (his mother being Thai and his father having Chinese blood).
Of course, Korea will welcome back Yang as a hero, as it has done previously with its many female golfers. Here's hoping Yang won't be the last Asian to fist-pump en route to another major title.
Manny Pacquiao (Boxing)
They say all of the Philippines comes to a standstill whenever Pacquiao fights.
And you know what?—It's probably true.
Ring magazine's No.1 P4P boxer and the IBO light-welterweight champion, Pacquaio has lifted gold in 5 separate weight divisions and holds a record of 49-3-2—The last of those win's of course coming against Britain's charismatic Ricky Hatton with a memorable KO in the second round.
Of course, Pacquaio's legacy won't be framed on his fight with Hatton or even Oscar De La Hoya but the result of the inevitable superfight where he will come up against another P4P title contender, the undefeated, Floyd Mayweather.
Win or lose, Pacquiao will still be a national hero in his homeland you feel and definitely a name many even outside Asia in the boxing world will recall with respect when the Pac-Man eventually hangs up his gloves.
Yao Ming (Basketball)
Son of two former pro b-ball players (or a Chinese government experiment as some claim!) Yao is undoubtedly China's premier athlete at the moment earning the more than any other Chinese celebrity for six straight years through his basketball and various endorsements (remember, this is in a country of over 1 billion people).
Being the tallest player in the NBA can be tough. Much is expected on that basis alone and after finding limited success with the Rockets as well as incurring various injury niggles the seven-time NBA All-Star may feel disappointed not to have won more in the NBA.
With his national team at the Olympics Yao further encountered disappointment going far but getting knocked out in the 2000, 2004, and 2008 Olympic tournaments despite impressive individual performances and stats bellying a top class player.
At 28, however, you feel there's more left in the tank and perhaps at least one more opportunity for his and his national teammates (the so-called "walking wall of China") to gain the elusive gold.
Rahul Dravid (Cricket)
When Dravid does eventually retire from the game that made him a star (MTV youth Icon of the year 2004) and a national hero to his fellow Indians, it will almost certainly be with numerous world records in the game still to his name.
The first and only batsman to score a century in all 10 test playing nations, the world record holder of the highest number of catches in test cricket, and holding the record in being involved in more the 75 century partnerships with 18 different partners are just some of the many records his peers in the game will envy for a long time.
Being the first ICC world player of the year in 2004 Dravid has slowed down in recent years, retiring the national captaincy and finishing seventh out of eight teams in the Indian Premier League last year with his team, The Bangalore Royal Challengers.
In fact his last man of the match award in either ODI or test cricket came almost two years ago.
That said Dravid has seen a resurgence of late. In 2009 his Challengers finished 2nd, Dravid putting in some noteworthy performances and recently, Dravid has been re-called back into the national team.
Dravid is known for his longevity in the game, from his test debut against England in 1996 up until the present day and for a cricket career nearly spanning two decades now.
He may not be the world-class cricketer of his heyday but will forever remain a legendary player.
Park Ji-Sung (Soccer)
Park Ji-Sung is undoubtedly Asia's most successful footballer of all time and on his day a valuable contributor to his current team, Manchester United.
Although Asian football has a long way to go before reaching the standard of Latin American, European, and indeed, even African football, Park remains on of the select few Asian players in Europe at the forefront of these developments.
While it is tempting to highlight South Korea's 2002 national team run to the WC semifinals here—let's not kid ourselves, the referees and the genius of Dutchman Guus Hiddink certainly had as much to do with that achievement as anyone on the Korean national team.
Nonetheless Park has found notably outstanding success outside the national team winning two Dutch titles with PSV and three Premierships with Manchester United as well as the UEFA Champions League (and in the process becoming the first Asian to do so).
On an individual level he was named in the Cl 2005 Select XI as well as in the Eredivisie's best XI in that same year—an excellent personal year that would lead him to a move to England.
There will be even better to look forward to from Asia in the future as the game's already massive popularity there feeds through to grassroots level youth football.
Lyoto Machida (MMA)
Machida has been hailed as a phenomenon in the UFC world having picked up wins against the likes of Rich Franklin, BJ Penn, Tito Ortiz, and Rashad Evans en route to his current position as the UFC light-heavyweight champion.
With no losses from 15 fights and a series of convincing performances he is currently rated the No. 4 P4P fighter in the world by Sherdog and perhaps higher by many within the MMA community itself.
Although born in Brazil, Machida is the son of the renowned Japanese Shotokan Karate Master Yoshizo Machida.
Lyoto unsurprisingly followed his father's footsteps into MMA working in the Karate discipline from a young age before assuming training in Sumo and BJJ.
A later move to Japan to train with Antonio Inoki in pro-wrestling with New Japan was to follow, as well as a stint in Thailand practicing Muay Thai before going into kickboxing under Inoki once again back in Japan.
Machida is no bar room brawler. Versed in numerous martial arts disciplines Machida is no stranger to technique in his fighting—something which has earned the ire of some fans who believe it makes for "boring" fights!
But Machida is getting over that hump. Improving English and more wins have followed since Machida's introduction to crowds in the US. To the Japanese media he is known as the second Inoki but to the US he may well soon be thought of as as the first Machida.
Ichiro Suzuki (Baseball)
Although a national sporting pastime in America, surprisingly, Japan has made more appearances in Olympics baseball than America scoring one silver and two bronze.
Of course, Japan does have a baseball tradition dating from at least 1872 and even has a minor league tradition but rarely do Japanese baseball talents cross the Pacific and never do they make it in the major leagues.
Of course, there is an exception to that rule today and his name Ichiro Suzuki.
Derided by US team coach Mick Hargrove in 1998 during a Japan vs America All Star game as capable of nothing more than being "a fourth outfielder on a major league team" Ichiro would go on to make poor Mick eat his words when the Seattle Mariners took him to America.
Suzuki is a phenomenon in baseball—not just due to the fact that as an Asian in the MLB, he is as rare as gold dust.
In 2001 he became the first player to finish first in both batting average and stolen bases since the legendary Jackie Robinson. He is also a Golden Glove winner in each of his first eight seasons and a nine-time All Star selection.
As of 2009 he has the highest career batting average among active players and holds the single season Major League record with 262 hits (in 2004).
Between 2001 and 2004 he amassed more hits than anyone in history during a four-year period.
But I'm not a statistics kind of guy when it comes to sport, and for me Ichiro's legacy can be even more clearly be seen in his popularity back home and the surging popularity baseball (and the Seattle Mariners) saw from Japanese tourists who would tailor their holiday packages around watching him.
With Ichiro's success others from Japan have followed him to the MLB and surely Ichiro can now consider himself a future Hall of Fame candidate.
Marco Fu (Snooker)
Having started playing snooker age nine and eventually attaining the World Amateur and World U-21 championships in 1997, Fu is not a one off in the game and brings great pedigree to the table he plays on.
After reaching the final of the Grand Prix in his first season as as a pro he was awarded the World Snooker Association Young Player of the year in 1999.
Many soon claimed Fu a prodigy and a future champion; however Fu's form sadly slipped somewhat thereafter.
But Fu holds somewhat of an Indian sign over the world's best players—his record against Ronnie O'Sullivan is unmatched among his peers for instance.
Winner of the Royal Watches Grand Prix in 2007 and Premier League Snooker in 2003 in the following decade since his pro debut, it is safe to say Fu has not quite lived up to his dazzling start in pro snooker which had promised so much.
That said Fu has still been ranked among the world's top ten players for quite some time now and if he can find more consistency in his game, a future world championship may not be beyond him.
In fact it would be fitting if Fu once more beat his longtime rival and current world No. 1, Ronnie O'Sullivan, in the final, if such an event occurred!
Lin Dan (Badminton)
A flamboyant character to say the least, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist—believe it or not— holds the rank of lieutenant colonel in the People's Liberation Army of China (as part of its sports troop).
Being the only player in history to have won three world championships (which he did so consecutively between 2006-2009—2008 being an Olympic year where no IBF Championship was held) and four-time All England Open Winner its safe to say Dan is among the premier Badminton players of the 21st century.
Of course, the history of badminton itself in human history can be traced back to China as far back as 2500 B.C so it is perhaps no surprise a great tradition in the sport can be found among Asian athletes and in particular Chinese athletes.
That said the modern interpretation of badminton can safely be said to be yet another sporting product of the British empire (which amalgamated, refined and distributed around the world many national sporting pastimes found within its world spanning territories).
Thus increasing domination of the game by Asian players then is in marked contrast to other "Western" sports where Asians are just getting their feet wet.
Perhaps though his defining achievements can be said to have occurred in the even more popular team play badminton international competitions.
The Thomas Cup where he has played a key role in prizing the last three recent titles away from the tournaments usually dominant force, Indonesia, are evidence of the world-class teamwork and co-ordination aspects of his game that are not apparent in singles competition.
As an all-round Badminton player then, he truly is 'Super Dan'.
And finally, perhaps the biggest, baddest...and greatest Asian sportsman in the world today...
The Great Khali (Wrestling)
Standing 7'0", weighing in at over 400 pounds, India's first wrestler in the WWE (and in my opinion, the best), the Great Khali, is not only a former World Heavyweight Champion but probably the most awesome sight you're likely to behold in the WWE today.
Of course, the rumors of Khali's ancestry never go away, born near the Himalyan border to an old carpenter and a local nurse there have been numerous insinuations of possible Yeti blood flowing through Khali's veins.
A former Mr. India and part time movie star Khali's best work has come in the ring however when facing other giants of the squared circle such like Undertaker, Kane and Triple H—more often than not leading to victory.
Of course, lately Khali has demurred somewhat from the constant professional preparation and training he must go through in order to defeat his formidable opponents.
With the introduction of the "Khali Kiss Cam", Khali has now begun to grant a lucky female member of the crowd a kiss.
Not surprisingly, wrestling has become wildly popular with the fairer sex in recent months leading to unprecedented levels of female attendance at WWE events.
In this regard, Khali a simple carpenter's boy born thousands of miles away from the glitz and glamor of the WWE cameras may have left his greatest impact on the sport—finally bringing living, breathing females into a hitherto male dominated environment.
And there you have it.
I hope you've found this slide show as interesting and informative as the research I did.
Although there were many others that I thought about adding, not just in the sports mentioned (and particularly in the cricket and badminton) but in other sports; I just felt some would have been too easy to include (table tennis and gymnastics are almost stereotypes at this stage) and to hard to make a decent argument for (for example sailing and tennis)
Stil others, although outstanding in their achievements (such as those in athletics and swimming) did not qualify for the professional criteria I set out.
As for Asian sport itself...where does it go from here?
With an even greater majority of the world's population expected to reside in Asia by 2050—strength to strength—especially as awareness of pro sports there spread.
In fact, as alluded to before, many sports such as Soccer, Cricket, Rugby, Baseball, Snooker and Boxing (and many more) have actively sought to encourage Asian interest by hosting major events and tournaments there, in the past and now, will likely even continue to moreso in the future.
If I had to bet on one global sport category that I think we'll see far greater Asian participation in the future, I think motorsport would be a good one to look out for. Particularly as the Far East in particular is no stranger to automobile engineering and manufacturing.
One sport I was genuinely surprised not to see much Asian participation though during my research was cycling. For anyone that's ever been to Asia, particularly to the Far East and South-Eastern Asia, its not exaggerating to say there's at least 3-4 times more bikes than cars on the roads. In terms of geography, the terrain and humidity is ideal for training—what gives?!
As incomes hopefully grow in Asia over the decades and as youngsters get more access to good sporting equipment and facilities, let's hope more Y.E Yang's, Ichiro's and Yao Ming's give even greater diversity to the sports we've come to love.
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