The fifth Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, considered the biggest multi-sport event uniting Asian countries, kicked off this week in the Caspian region for the first time.
On Sunday, Turkmenistan’s capital city of Ashgabat welcomed more than 6,000 athletes from 62 countries, including 45 countries belonging to the Olympic Council of Asia and 17 countries forming the Oceania National Olympic Committees and a refugee team from Africa.
“It is a great pleasure for us to welcome our athletes from the continent of Oceania, who are competing in the Games for the first time,” said Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.
“Health, Inspiration, Friendship” is the game’s motto this year, as Turkmenistan looks to project an image internationally as a country with a rich cultural heritage and centuries-old traditions.
“I have never been so proud to be a part of the Turkmen Sports Movement as I am standing in front of my fellow countrymen today,” said Dayanch Gulgeldiyev, Chairman of the Executive Committee, telling the athletes they have a fantastic opportunity.
Turkmenistan has been preparing for the games since December 2010, when its bid to host them was announced in Kuwait. Ashgabat has invested $5 billion in the development of a sports complex that accommodates around 45,000 spectators.
Sunday’s opening ceremony included a parade of cultural motifs and folk traditions, dances and elements uniquely Turkmen. A horseman, mounted on a white Akhal-Teke stallion – a breed indigenous to the country and part of the national emblem – lit the fire of the torch that will burn throughout the games, which run until September 27.
The horse steadily climbed 17 steps for the rider to ignite the torch set in a cauldron atop the Ashgabat Olympic Stadium, and set off a pyrotechnic sequence that included flames leaping high into the night sky.
The Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games consist of 21 sports, including basketball, volleyball, handball, mini-football, freestyle and classical wrestling, judo, taekwondo, tennis, gymnastics and cycling.
As for September 21, Turkmenistan leads in the number of medals won thus far in the games, totaling 128. Fifty-four are gold, 37 silver and 37bronze. Neighboring Uzbekistan stands in second place so far, with 57 medals, and Caspian neighbor Iran with 39.