Indonesia kicks off biggest ever Asian Games

Above: Gymnast and flagbearer Hoe Wah Toon leading the Singapore delegation at the opening ceremony of the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta. Below: At Jakarta's Gelora Bung Karno Main Stadium, 40,000 spectators were entertained by pyrotechnics and cultura
Above: Gymnast and flagbearer Hoe Wah Toon leading the Singapore delegation at the opening ceremony of the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Above: Gymnast and flagbearer Hoe Wah Toon leading the Singapore delegation at the opening ceremony of the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta. Below: At Jakarta's Gelora Bung Karno Main Stadium, 40,000 spectators were entertained by pyrotechnics and cultura
Above: At Jakarta's Gelora Bung Karno Main Stadium, 40,000 spectators were entertained by pyrotechnics and cultural performances on a 120m-long stage.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

The biggest Asian Games in history opened yesterday with Indonesia welcoming the continent's top athletes to Jakarta and Palembang.

In the capital's Gelora Bung Karno Main Stadium, 40,000 spectators were entertained at 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. The Games were later declared open by Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) president Sheikh Fahad Al-Sabah noted the significance of the 18th edition, with warring 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 this is the first time the event is being co-hosted by two cities. A record 11,000 athletes from 45 countries are competing in 40 sports.

Besides an almost full roster of Olympic sports, jujitsu, 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, is aiming to top the standings for the 10th successive time. In their ranks are star swimmer Sun Yang and shuttler Lin Dan while other world-class talents include South Korean footballer Son Heung-min, world badminton champion Kento Momota of Japan and Singapore's Olympic champion Joseph Schooling.

Singapore's 51 athletes 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, said: "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."

• Additional reporting by Shamir Osman

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 19, 2018, with the headline 'Indonesia kicks off biggest ever Asian Games'. Print Edition | Subscribe