President opens Winter Asiad

Updated: 2007-01-29 09:53
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CHANGCHUN, China - President Hu Jintao was the surprise guest as the last multi-sports Games to be hosted in the country before the 2008 Olympics got underway with the opening ceremony of the Asian Winter Games on Sunday.

President opens Winter Asiad
President Hu Jintao declares the openning of the 6th Asian Winter Games in Changchun on January 28, 2007. [Xinhua]
In a mark of how seriously China is taking sport in the run-up to next year's Beijing Games, Hu was in the capital of Jilin Province to declare open the sixth version of the continental contest of snow and ice sports.

"Let the Games begin," he said to applause from an audience of 10,000 spectators and several hundred athletes from across Asia gathered at the Wuhuan Gymnasium.

Some 816 athletes from 26 countries and regions -- including 160 from China and a single skier from Palestine -- have registered to take part in the Games, which run until February 4.

"The Asian Winter Games has come a long way since it started in Sapporo in 1986 with only seven countries taking part," said Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) chief Ahmad Al-Sabah.

"Today for the first time representatives of all 45 OCA members are with us which is a great achievement for the organizing committee."

Although there were representatives of all 45, many of the delegations contain only officials and several of the marchers in the parade of athletes were on their own.

Unsurprisingly, the loudest cheers were reserved for the Chinese party but there were also warm welcomes for the Hong Kong, Macau and Chinese Taipei athletes.

China dominated the main Asian Games in Doha in December but their winter athletes, who have won just four of their country's 114 Olympic gold medals, are unlikely to do the same.

Japan, which has entered 100 athletes, topped the medals table at the last Games on home soil in Aomori four years ago and are favorites to do so again.


Their delegation also received plenty of applause despite being in city which served as the capital of the puppet state of Manchukuo after the Japanese army invaded China in the 1930s.

The North and South Korean athletes marched together under the same flag -- a pale blue map of the peninsula on a white background -- just as they did in Doha, although they will compete separately.

South Korea were second in the medals table in 2003 and will need to continue their traditional dominance of the short-track speed skating to retain that position from the Chinese.

After the lighting of the Games flame came a colorful two-hour spectacular with the theme "The Wintery Glow of Changchun."

Unfortunately, the winter is glowing without snow this year and organizers, who have spent 490 million yuan ($63.01 million) on preparing the venues for the Games, said they have had to spend another million on making it artificially.

Although snow is forecast this week at the other two event venues -- Jilin City and the ski resort of Beida -- they will also be relying on China's mastery of "weather manipulation" to ensure good cover for the Alpine events.