China, Guangzhou, Nov 12: The 16th edition of Asian Games officially opened with a glitzy gala ceremony on Friday, culminating years of planning for a massive event that is set to reinforce China`s regional sporting dominance.
The opening ceremony began with a spectacular light and fireworks show with Chinese music building up the tempo. The 650 feet high tower of fireworks illuminated the entire sky, announcing to the world that the Asian games had arrived in the biggest part of the continent. For the first time in the history of sports, the mega-ceremony was not held inside a stadium, instead it was held along the Pearl River in Haixinsha Island.
Prior to the ceremony, Chen Weiya, the director of the ceremony, who was also the assistant director of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, revealed in a special interview that the ceremony "will surprise the world". He was not off the mark by even a whisker as the water/light theme was something no one else in the world had thought of, and its seamless execution took the level of the Asian Games one notch above.
The ceremony was attended by State Council of China Wen Jiabao, President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Chief Secretary for Administration of Hong Kong Henry Tang.
Organisers promised the largest lighting show ever seen at a major sports event, based around a theme prominently featuring the local Lingnan culture and they kept their promise.
Film starlet Zhang Ziyi and world-renowned pianist Lang Lang performed together in one of the highlights of the show, while athletes arrived by a convoy of pleasure boats.
The extravaganza heralds the most ambitious Asiad so far with more than 14,000 athletes and officials from 45 countries and territories angling for gold in 42 sports.
The Games run until November 27, with hosts China heavily favoured to top the medal table, with South Korea and Japan battling for second place.
Just as Beijing did before the 2008 Olympics, Guangzhou has poured billions of dollars into getting this sprawling southern metropolis ready.
Security is a major focus, with more than 100,000 police officers on duty to keep it safe, along with hundreds of thousands of security guards and volunteers.
While the two Koreas marched together at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, 2004 Athens Olympics and 2006 Doha Asian Games in a sign of reconciliation, it appears unlikely to happen in Guangzhou.
Relations between the two neighbours remain tense after the sinking of South Korean warship, the Cheonan, in March that claimed 46 lives.
All the athletes will arrive by a convoy of pleasure boats, including those from war-torn Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as Iran and the Palestinian territories. Other than the opening ceremony, no events were held Friday with the competition proper kicking off on Saturday.