JAKARTA - The biggest Asian Games in history opened on Saturday (Aug 18) night as Indonesia welcomed the continent's top athletes to Jakarta and Palembang.
At the capital’s Gelora Bung Karno Main Stadium, 40,000 spectators were entertained by an opening ceremony that featured cultural performances and pyrotechnics on a 120m-long stage, built manually by artists from Jakarta and Bandung, and in the shape of a towering mountain with a waterfall.
The ceremony opened with a skit purportedly showing Indonesia President Joko Widodo doing stunts on a motorbike in Jakarta’s streets before riding into the stadium, to roars from the crowd.
There were huge cheers when the two Koreas, whose athletes together number about 1,000, marched into the stadium together under a unified flag wearing pristine white and blue uniforms.
Mr Joko, who declared the Games open, was also seen dancing in his seat as Indonesian singer Via Vallen took to the stage, before the stadium fell silent to honour the victims of the recent Lombok earthquake.
Indonesian badminton great Susi Susanti, the Olympic women’s singles champion in 1992, lit the Games cauldron and the ceremony closed with a noisy music performance and spectacular fireworks.
Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) president Sheikh Fahad Al-Sabah noted that significance of the 18th edition, with squabbling neighbours North and South Korea marching together, and expressed pride that Kuwait was allowed to compete at the Games under the Kuwaiti flag.
He added: "Athletes, now it's your time to shine... fight, enjoy and never give up."
Some 600km away in co-host city Palembang, things were more low key but the 1,500 strong crowd at the Gelora Sriwijaya Stadium were glued to the big screens that beamed the action in Jakarta.
The quadrennial Asiad is the largest multi-sports event outside the Olympics and it is the first time the Games are co-hosted by two cities with a record 11,000 athletes from 45 countries and regions competing in 40 sports.
Besides an almost full roster of Olympic sports, ju-jitsu, sport-climbing, roller sport and paragliding will feature at the Asiad for the first time while canoe polo and e-sports are included as demonstration sports - a nod to the OCA's push towards younger audiences.
The battle for medals will be closely watched as the 845-strong Chinese delegation, which includes 19 Olympic champions, are aiming to top the standings for the 10th successive time.
Among their ranks are star swimmer Sun Yang and shuttler Lin Dan while other world class talents include South Korean footballer Son Heung-min, badminton world champion Kento Momota of Japan and Singapore's Olympic swimming champion Joseph
The Republic's 51 athletes ((out of a 264-member contingent) and officials were led by flag bearer Hoe Wah Toon during the march out.
The 29-year-old gymnast, who is competing in his final Games: "It was really exhilarating to wave the flag when Singapore was marching in, but all I could think of was 'Don't trip and don't let the flag curl.'
"I'm proud to represent my country, my sport, and all the fellow athletes who have worked so hard to get to these games."