History made as Ashgabat 2017 gets under way with spectacular Opening Ceremony
The biggest ever multi-sport event to be staged in Central Asia opened with a dazzling ceremony in the capital of Turkmenistan.
The Ashgabat 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games were declared open on Sunday evening.
A colourful spectacle celebrating the history and culture of the host nation wowed fans at the 45,000-seater Olympic Stadium for more than three hours before the cauldron was lit amid a flurry of fireworks.
Earlier, the esteemed Turkmenistan president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow – a 60-year-old former dentist, amateur musician and DJ – sounded the bell to declare the 5th AIMAG open after a lengthy address, which started precisely at 20:17, following a standing ovation that approached five minutes.
The Olympic Council of Asia President Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah spoke ahead of the athletes' parade, singling out the historic participation of Oceania at an Asian Games for the first time, as well as the presence of an all-South Sudanese refugees team.
Highlights of the lavish spectacle included a potted history of the Silk Road and the land that is now Turkmenistan, an intricate celebration of the nation's renowned carpets, and a pyrotechnic bonanza reflecting the discovery of the gas reserves responsible for the reported US$5bn spent on infrastructure in what is the first major sporting event held in Turkmenistan.
Over 7,600 performers – including some 2,100 professional singers, dancers and musicians, not to forget the legendary Turkmen folk artist Jemal Saparova – were involved in the Opening Ceremony, which was produced by the Milan-based company Balich Worldwide Shows and featured acrobatic ingenuity, aerial agility and thousands of flashing LED lights from the crowd.
The focal point for the show was a retractable cylinder suspended 30 metres above the ground – the biggest ever built for such an Opening Ceremony – on which images were projected and under which performers, animals and props emerged from the deepest underground chamber of its kind at such a venue.
Thirty-four camels, one traditional Alabai shepherd dog and two cute puppies were involved – while 65 of Turkmenistan's famous Akhal-teke horses featured prominently towards the climax of the Ceremony, which saw the cauldron lit by a traditional horseman atop a castle following the completion of a 500-day journey.
The flame will burn until the Games end, on September 27, from atop an imposing, 600-tonne white horse's head that presides majestically over the stadium – declared by the Guinness Book of Records as the largest horse symbol in the world.
More than 4,500 athletes from 65 delegations representing Asia, Africa and Oceania are competing over 12 days in 347 medal events across 21 sports – including swimming, track cycling, indoor athletics, chess and several martial arts.