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Living the sports dream in Hangzhou

By Mario Cavolo | China Daily | Updated: 2023-09-25 08:14
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Clean energy sources are being used to power the Hangzhou Games. [WEI XIAOHAO/CHINA DAILY]

Living in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province for two years (2016-17) was an unexpected delight. The city has always been known as one of the best, most famous and beautiful cities to live in. Back in the "good old days", it was a four-hour drive from Shanghai. Now it takes 45 minutes to cover the 180 kilometers by a high-speed train.

During my two-year stay in Hangzhou, we used to hop into our car to explore the lovely landscapes of Zhejiang, and often drove down to the Thousand Islets Lake. We were never disappointed. I even performed a solo jazz piano concert at the splendid Hangzhou Grand Theater near the Qiantang River whose annual tidal bores were always a tourist's favorite.

The Qiantang River's tidal bores have now found their way into the official emblem of the Asian Games, which opened in Hangzhou on Saturday and will continue till Oct 8. The charming and romantic strolls through the sculpted tea fields were soothing to the soul. And stopping at the lush, delightful gardens of Hangzhou Zoo was always fun.

Home to so much lifestyle goodness, Hangzhou is most suited to host the 2023 Asian Games. Incidentally, China is hosting the multisports event for the third time; Beijing hosted the games in 1990 and Guangzhou in 2010. A source of pride and unity for the region, the Hangzhou Asian Games continue China's focus on warm, friendly international relations.

That's precisely what the official slogan, Heart to Heart, @Future, conveys. It echoes the past while heralding the future, and steering the participating countries toward warm, friendly relationships.

The world needs more of what the Asian Games offer: a platform for athletes from different countries to come together and compete in the spirit of friendship and camaraderie. Much like the Olympics, the Asian Games also offer an opportunity for participating countries to showcase their cultures and traditions, apart from their sports prowess.

On the domestic front, because of China's active promotion of sports, there has been an uptick in people's interest in sports over the years. No wonder China has been producing one excellent athlete after another who have been making a mark on the international stage.

These efforts began during the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing and gathered tremendous pace after the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympic Games. Who can forget the spectacular sight of gymnast Li Ning running around the stadium? I remember seeing ads in my apartment building's elevator featuring Shi Tingmao, winner of four Olympic gold medals in springboard diving, after the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, which had been deferred to 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

China has implemented several programs aimed at developing young sports talents. The country's interests have moved far beyond table tennis and badminton. For example, along the Hunhe River in downtown Shenyang, the many basketball courts built under the bridges along the Shenyang Water Bay Park are often crowded from morning to evening with players.

China has been a strong supporter of the Asian Games, and in recent years, it has taken several steps to strengthen its relations with Asian countries. In November 2021, for instance, China and ASEAN agreed to elevate their ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership, with the aim of expanding cooperation between China and the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in various fields. That the 19th Asian Games are being held in China means cooperation now includes the world of sports.

Besides, the local touch in the Asian Games is evident in Chinese auto giant Geely, which has its headquarters in Hangzhou, being chosen to provide the vehicle fleet for the sports gala.

The Asian Games are not only recognized by the International Olympic Committee but also the second-largest sporting event worldwide, providing athletes with an opportunity to showcase their talent, and gain valuable experience and exposure that can help them in the future.

The 19th Asian Games are a grand celebration of sportsmanship and friendship and, more important, will give the visiting athletes a chance to experience Hangzhou, one of China's most beloved and beautiful cities.

The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.

The author is a non-resident senior fellow of the Center for China and Globalization.

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