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READY TO DAZZLE — Team Phl puts on game face as Asiad gets underway

WORKERS apply finishing touches on the garden of the Athletes Village of the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China. | Photograph by Julius Manicad for the Daily Tribune

HANGZHOU, China — The biggest Asian Games in history unfolds with a special night of singing, dancing and a state-of-the-art showcase of the host city’s cultural and historic attractions on Saturday at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium here.

Around 12,000 athletes, which is more than the 10,500 competitors expected to take part in the Paris Olympics next year, will take centerstage when the Asian Games flame lights up in China for the third time in history.

The large number of competitors is due to the Olympic Council of Asia’s decision to include some sports that couldn’t be seen in the Olympics.

Cricket will be played as well as squash, sepak takraw, wushu, jiu-jitsu, kurash and Esports, which will be played as a regular sport after serving as a demonstration sport in the previous Asian Games in Jakarta in 2018.

Also adding spice to the Asian Games is the presence of North Korea, which sent 191 athletes in 18 sports to formally end its three-year isolation from the international sports arena.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach is also expected to be in attendance despite an open power struggle between him and former Olympic Council of Asia president Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, whose younger brother bagged the OCA presidency in controversial fashion.

The IOC refused to recognize the election of Sheikh Talal Fahad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, saying that Randhir Singh of India will remain as the interim OCA president since his older brother, who is serving a self-imposed suspension, obviously influenced the outcome of the elections last July.

Still, the Asian Games is tipped to push through with grandiose, elegance and pageantry that will signify China’s first hosting of the prestigious quadrennial spectacle since staging it in Beijing in 1990 and Guangzhou in 2010.

The breathtaking projections, depicting Hangzhou’s past and present, will beam onto the floor and background screens while the glass-free 3D animations of athletic action and the innovative lighting of cauldron that involves a virtual torchbearer will be among the showpiece moments of the production that is expected to last for 115 minutes.

The Philippines will be among the athletes from 45 countries and territories that will be greeted by the cheers of more than 50,000 expected spectators.

EJ Obiena, Asia’s top track and field player and the second-best pole vaulter in the world, will banner the Filipino athletes together with reigning Asian Games champion Margielyn Didal. Ranking sports officials like Philippine Olympic Committee president Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino, Philippine Sports Commission chairman Richard “Dickie” Bachmann and chief of mission Richard Gomez are also expected to be at the helm.

The POC said only 90 of the 396 Filipino athletes will be included in the opening parade in order to preserve energy for an action-packed week. Tipped to join the opening parade are athletes from shooting, boxing and swimming as well as those who don’t have scheduled competitions until Sunday. They will be donning the traditional barong tagalog crafted by fashion icon Francis Libiran.

Tolentino said he expects the Filipino athletes to be at their best and surpass their previous performance of four gold medals in Jakarta — two came from golf, one from weightlifting and one from skateboarding.

Tolentino didn’t mention names but he expects to harvest gold medals from sports like athletics, swimming, weightlifting, Esports, golf and boxing.

Kayla Sanchez, a two-time Olympic medalist for Canada in Tokyo, will be seeing action in six events when she makes her debut for the Philippines while Obiena remains the top contender in pole vault for holding the Asian record of six meters.

Hopes are also high on Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz of weightlifting as well as other Olympians Nesthy Petecio, Eumir Marcial and Carlo Paalam of boxing.

“Our target remains the same. Minimum of four golds is going to be okay,” said Tolentino, who is already here as early as Tuesday to personally lobby for the inclusion of last-minute entries.

“I think our male athletes will bounce back. We have EJ Obiena and Eumir Marcial in boxing. We also have a good golfer in Clyde Mondilla and other good athletes from Esports.”

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