By Nick Butler on Naiyang Beach in Phuket 

The early stages of the men's cross country race before they progressed onto the sand ©ITGCross country running made its Asian Beach Games debut here today, with Bahrain cruising to four gold medals in a sport which proved both gruelling and picturesque, as well as slightly farcical.

The discipline was last held at an Olympic Games 90 years ago in 1924 despite more recent calls for it to be on both Summer and Winter Olympic programmes, although, after today's show, inclusion at the inaugural World Beach Games seems the most likely opportunity.

Over a two kilometre loop of which around 90 per cent was on the beach within metres of the sea, the men competed four laps and the women three laps, with the soft, sandy and unrelenting surface making things all the more tricky.

Athletes from all over the course were visibly slowing in the closing stages before collapsing in sheer exhaustion over the line.

That did not stop the runners from the two new powers of Asian distance running, Bahrain and Qatar, racing clear in a dominant show of front-running, although the intrigue created by a battle between two political rivals was offset by the fact all their leading runners were originally from African nations.

Ethiopian-born Bilisuma Gelassa of Bahrain took male honours, putting 20 seconds into compatriot Awake Yimer on the final lap to win in 28min 41sec, a swift time considering the trickiness of the course as well as the fact he ran barefoot.

So comfortable were the leading duo that they did not stop when crossing the line and carried on for an extra 400 metres until officials were able to catch up and convince them they had finished.

Qatar's Sudanese-born Asian Games 3,000 metres steeplechase champion Abubaker Ali Kamal, who returned from a two-year doping ban in January, took bronze, while a strong Iranian team excelled to win silver, with Bahrain taking gold and Qatar bronze.

Iran had a good day today, also beating Japan to beach soccer gold ©Getty ImagesIran had a good day today, also beating Japan to beach soccer gold ©Getty Images

The women's race was similarly one-sided as Bahrain swept the top two positions, with Ethiopian-born Tajitu Chalchissa edging Gladys Kibiwan, originally from Kenya, to gold.

Yiu Kit Ching of Hong Kong won a superb bronze medal, as Bahrain beat Indonesia and Thailand in the team stakes.

"It was a good event," Asian Athletics Association vice-president Surapong Ariyamongkol told insidethegames afterwards.

"Maybe for next time, we may make it shorter for the men as today was too tough for them."

He added that it was a "worry" so many winners of Asian athletics events have been originally born elsewhere in recent years, as they were not Asian and made it "less fun" for others.

Iran's victory in the beach soccer was equally exciting as they edged out Japan in the final stages.

Although Iran led 2-1 after the first of four periods, Japan pegged them back to 2-2 before a flurry of late action resulted in Hassan Abdollahi Mobarhan scoring the winner in a 4-3 victory.

United Arab Emirates thrashed Vietnam 8-2 to win the bronze medal.

South Korea took the final gold on offer in beach modern pentathlon, triumphing in the team relay event over East Asian rivals China, who had teams in second and third position, although only one was allowed to count, meaning fourth placed Kazakhstan were awarded bronze.

Eight gold medals were won today in air sports, with Thailand taking six of them ©Phuket 2014Eight gold medals were won today in air sports, with Thailand taking six of them
©Phuket 2014

There was no stopping hosts Thailand elsewhere, however, as the Games' most dominant nation won four more titles in air sports today to move onto 47 gold medals overall, a staggering 30 clear of nearest rivals China.

Indonesia and South Korea also secured titles in air sports.

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