Sat Sep 20, 2014 12:40:06

From weightlifting to wushu, rowing to rugby sevens and swimming to sepaktakraw, the Games will showcase elite Asian talent in 36 sports, with the first of 439 gold medals to be awarded in the women's 10 metre air pistol team event on Saturday.

Much of the attention will be focused on the pool where Olympic champions Sun Yang of China and South Korea's homegrown hero Park Tae-hwan will meet in a series of freestyle duels.

China has topped the medals table at the last eight Asian Games and is expected to do so again, while the hosts' target is finishing second, above fierce rivals Japan, for the fifth straight Asiad.

China's vast delegation includes badminton great Lin Dan and London Olympic gold medallist Yi Shiwen while Japan expect great things from a swim team that took seven golds at the recent Pan Pacific Championships.

Olympic champions Yang Hak-seon and Lee Yong-dae will spearhead South Korea's campaign for 90 golds on home soil in a Games that will also put Korea's financial muscle and logistical capabilities to the test once again.

After hosting the Asian Games in 1986 and 2002, and the Olympics in 1988, South Korea will stage the winter Olympics for the first time in Pyeongchang in four years' time.

A successful Incheon Games would go a long way to allaying any concerns that South Korea will struggle to be ready.

A gold-medal laden performance would also be well received in South Korea, where the mood has been one of grief and despair following the Sewol ferry disaster in April.

Of the 476 passengers and crew on board, 339 were children and teachers from the same school. Only 172 people were rescued and the remainders are all presumed to have drowned.

While relations remain strained between Tokyo and Pyongyang, North Korean and Japanese athletes showed no signs of tension as they filed into the stadium one after another, the Korean alphabet putting the delegations beside each other.

The North Korean flag was also flying at the stadium, a week after complaints from ultra-conservative South Korean groups forced organizers to take them down from the streets in the host city and other venues.

Tensions between North and South Korea are high and the two states are still technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.