China at the Asian Games: Where gold isn't always good enough

Gold medallist Sun Yang of China poses on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Men's 400m freestyle swimming final Fred Lee/Getty Images

If you sit through a final at the Asian Games, odds are you are going to stand for the Chinese National anthem.

With less than a week left to the end of the Games, the rousing 'March of the volunteers' has been played in venues across Jakarta and Palembang 80 times (It was 75 at the time I started writing this piece and likely a lot more by the time you finish reading it). That's about 30 percent of all anthem plays over the course of the Games so far.

Another 100 athletes (96 when I started writing this) have stepped onto the podium. This sort of overkill leads to the obvious sort of question, just what does it take for one of China's 181 medal-winning athletes to actually be noticed? "There are so many athletes who win medals every day. So you can't write about every medal winner, because you don't have the time or the space if you were a newspaper. You need to win at least a gold medal for any amount of media coverage," says Zhou Chau, a reporter with China's Xinhua agency.

There is a hierarchy among gold medals too. "In China, it isn't just enough to win a gold medal at the Asian Games. It is important to be competitive at the World level," says Dou Yu Jia who writes for the Chinese athletics federation. Hence, names such as Sun Yang - who won four gold medals in the pool in Jakarta - to go with his three Olympic gold medals will always be a draw for the Chinese.

Asian Games 2018 | Schedule | Results | Medals tally|

And there are quite a few reporters here. "We have around 400 journalists from (state broadcaster) CCTV and about as many from the other media companies. So that's probably 800 reporters here, says Jin Ting, a broadcast journalist with Zhejiang TV from Hangzhou, where the 2022 Games will be held.

Athletes from sports popular globally are also in demand. Su Bingtian, the 100m sprinter who claimed a gold medal with a new Asian record time of 9.92 seconds was swarmed by reporters after his final. "Su Bingtian doesn't have the fastest time in the world right now, but the 100m is the most prestigious event in world athletics. At the Tokyo 2020 Games, everyone will be watching him," says Dou Yu Jia, who covers athletics.

Athletes in some lesser popular disciplines will have to do more than just win. Take women's shot putter Gong Lijiao, who has won two Olympic medals, is the defending World Champion, and won her second consecutive Asian Games gold on Sunday. "Gong Lijiao is also popular with journalists because she cracks a lot of jokes and has a great personality," says Zhou.

For silver and bronze medal winners, the options are less obvious. "I think the only way anyone writes on a bronze medal winner is if the Chinese table tennis or diving team wins that medal. Because that would be a huge upset. We are so used to them winning gold medals here that it will be a scandal if they come back with only a bronze medal," says Zhou.

Of course, there are times a controversy-free bronze can also sneak through to the back pages even if it still won't make the lead. It does, though, take an exceptional story. The one that made it a couple of days ago was the one won by Duo Boujie who finished a distant third in the men's marathon. "He's from a family in Tibet and he used to raise yaks as a child. And I think he was the first Chinese man to win a medal in the marathon. So that was a very big medal for us," says Dou Yu Jia.