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Enthusiasm for Asian Games lit up as torch relay kicks off in Hangzhou

By Ma Zhenhuan | | Updated: 2023-09-08 23:15
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Torchbearer Ye Jiaxing runs in the torch relay of the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province, on Friday. The relay, in which 106 runners took part on Friday, was launched at Yongjin Park Square at the city’s iconic West Lake. [Huang Zongzhi / Xinhua]

Hangzhou, the main host city of the 19th Asian Games, initiated a symbolic beginning to the grand tournament as it commenced the celebratory torch relay on Friday.

The flame, a beacon of fraternity, progress, unity and perseverance, is slated to travel throughout Zhejiang province, and return to Hangzhou on Sept 20 for the final leg, culminating in the igniting of the caldron at the opening ceremony on Sept 23.

Vice-Premier Ding Xuexiang, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, lit the torch from a caldron at the launch ceremony near Hangzhou's iconic West Lake, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and announced the start of the relay.

Collected at the Archaeological Ruins of Liangzhu City, another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Hangzhou, during the 100-day countdown to the opening of the sporting extravaganza, the flame will help sow the seeds of friendship, progress, unity and endeavor, said Gao Zhidan, minister of China's General Administration of Sport and president of the Hangzhou Asian Games Organizing Committee, at the ceremony.

"The 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou will fully showcase the courage and perseverance of the athletes, and demonstrate the goodwill of the Asian people for peace, friendship and progress," said Song Luzeng, vice-president of the Olympic Council of Asia.

A total of 2,022 torchbearers, 732 of whom are women, from different Asian countries and regions will pass on the torch during the relay, according to the organizing committee. The youngest torchbearer is 14 years old and the oldest is 84 years old.

Thirty torchbearers were chosen through a random draw of public online applications from over 5 million people, said the organizing committee.

Large crowds gathered along the route of the relay on the inaugural day, chanting "Hangzhou jiayou! Yayun jiayou!" or "Come on, Hangzhou! Come on, Asian Games!", as they cheered for each torchbearer.

Chen Xin, a running enthusiast from Dalian, Liaoning province, came to the West Lake early in the morning.

"Sports are beautiful," she said. "I hope every athlete will perform at their best during the competition."

A total of 106 torchbearers ran the first leg of the torch relay over a distance of 5.2 kilometers, including Olympic swimming gold medalist Luo Xuejuan, Paralympic swimming champion Song Maodang and Chinese women's soccer star Wang Shuang.

"A healthy body is the foundation for a good education," said torchbearer Chen Liqun, a retired high school principal who has won numerous awards and honors for helping poor students in remote areas.

Participating in sports will encourage children to dream big, and more importantly, to strengthen their willpower to realize these dreams, he said.

"I have truly felt the anticipation and enthusiasm for the Asian Games from the Hangzhou people," said Olympic shooting champion Yang Qian, the last runner of the day's relay.

"I have also felt the power of the torch relay," added Yang, who was quite impressed by the design of the torch.

Standing at 730 millimeters high and weighing 1,200 grams, the torch takes its design cues from the 5,000-year-old Liangzhu Culture.

The torch "is an indication that the Chinese civilization has been passed down from generation to generation", explained Wang Yun, dean of the Industrial Design and Research Institute at the China Academy of Art.

For over a year, Wang has guided a team from the institute to complete the design of the torch.

The torch head was designed to resemble the appearance of a cong, an ancient Chinese jade artifact, with a square outer section, showing a harmonious square-round integration, and the burner nozzle takes its shape from the earliest oracle bone character of "cong", whose meaning is "light traveling in a cycle inside".

The surface patterns of the body of the torch are inspired by spiral patterns highly valued in the Liangzhu Culture and are shaped like fingerprints, naturally intertwined.

At the base, the torch is embossed with eight "water veins", symbolizing the evolution of civilization as well as the eight major river systems in Zhejiang.

The overall contour and curve of the torch looks as if a hand is holding it, explained Wang.

In addition, the torch includes some of the most advanced technologies in order to cope with bad weather conditions.

Multiple tests have been conducted on over 3,000 sets of torches, said an official from the torch relay command center of the Hangzhou Asian Games, including scenarios such as typhoons and heavy rainfall.

The flame can withstand gale-force winds, he said, and the torch can be lit even under the conditions of 300 mm rainfall per hour without having to worry that it will be extinguished.

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