Hangzhou Asian Games open after COVID-enforced delay

Bomi Yoon

A performance is underway at Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium in Hangzhou, China, prior to the opening ceremony of the 19th Asian Games on Sept. 23. Yonhap

The wait is over.

After a year’s delay, the 19th Asian Games opened in Hangzhou, China, Saturday, with an eco-friendly ceremony highlighting the host country’s cultural heritage and its cutting-edge technology.

The opening ceremony took place at the lotus-shaped Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium in the capital of Zhejiang Province, with Chinese President Xi Jinping joined by representatives from across Asia, including South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo.

The competition had been scheduled to begin in September 2022, but it was postponed by a year due to lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With 11,970 athletes from 45 nations, this is the largest edition of the Asian Games, which began in 1951.

These competitors will vie for 481 gold medals in 61 disciplines in 40 sports.

South Korea has sent its Asian Games-record delegation of 1,140 athletes and officials to Hangzhou.

They will compete in 39 of 40 sports, taking a shot at redemption after a disappointing performance at the 2018 Asiad in Indonesia.

South Korea finished third in the medal table with 49 gold medals, its fewest since 1982. South Korea had ranked second at every Asiad from 1998 to 2014, but that streak was snapped in 2018 as Japan captured 26 more gold medals than South Korea.

In Hangzhou, South Korea’s goal is to win 40 to 50 gold medals for third place, behind the host China and Japan.

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Led by two flag bearers, fencer Gu Bon-gil and swimmer Kim Seo-yeong, the South Korean delegation marched into the main stadium 16th among 45 participating nations, based on the alphabetical order of the country code, KOR.

About 100 members of the South Korean team attended the ceremony, waving their national flags toward the stands, with Prime Minister Han acknowledging them from the VIP section.

Gu, 34, is competing in his fourth consecutive Asiad. He has won three gold medals in a row in the men’s sabre individual event, the longest winning streak in an individual fencing discipline in Asiad history. He will try to extend that record here Monday.

Kim, 29, is the reigning Asian Games champion in the women’s 200-meter individual medley. She won that gold medal in Jakarta in 2018 with an Asian Games record of 2:08.34.

The opening ceremony is underway for the 19th Hangzhou Asian Games, Sept. 23. Yonhap

North Korea, as DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), was the seventh nation to walk into the stadium. This is the reclusive country’s first appearance at an international multisport event since the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia.

The two Koreas marched as one under the Unification Flag then, and also had joint teams in canoeing, rowing and basketball. They will be competing as separate entities this year, however, with multiple all-

Korean showdowns on the horizon for the next two-and-a-half weeks.

After the host country China marched in to a thunderous ovation, President Xi declared the Asian Games open. In keeping with the concept of a green Asian Games, the opening ceremony used digital fireworks instead of real ones.

Athletics coach Sun Haiping, former Olympic shooting champion Xu Haifeng and diving legend Guo Jingjing were among former Chinese athletes carrying the Olympic Council of Asia flag into the stadium.

Following a 25-minute gala show celebrating China’s beauty with advanced performance technologies, the Asian Games cauldron was lit, with high-end technologies again taking center stage.

For the first time in Asiad history, digital torchbearers were created to join the human torchbearer, after six Chinese sporting heroes, including Olympic table tennis champion Fan Zhendong and Olympic swimming gold medalist Ye Shiwen, covered the final leg of the relay.

Hangzhou is using eco-friendly, zero-carbon carbinol as the cauldron exhaust, demonstrating its commitment to stage the first carbon-neutral Asian Games.

The competition wraps up Oct. 8. (Yonhap)

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