Hangzhou rolls out 19th Asian Games

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HANGZHOU—The 19th edition of the Asian Games postponed from last year as an offshoot of the pandemic kick off on Saturday with an opening ceremony that’s expected to be lavish and high-tech with the host city—the third in China in the last 33 years—promising a visual spectacle showcasing its historic and cultural attraction.

World No. 2 and Asia’s No. 1 pole vaulter Ernest John “EJ” Obiena and skateboarder Margielyn Didal, gold medalist in the last Asian Games in Indonesia, will carry the country’s colors ahead of a 90-athlete Team Philippines that will march during the traditional parade of athletes in the ceremony set for 7 p.m.

The opening ceremony triggers a campaign for a modest target set by Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino in these Asian Games that were supposed to be held last year but were postponed by the hosts after a resurgence of the Covid-19 scare.

“It’s the same target of four gold medals,” said Tolentino, referring to the four gold medals won in Jakarta and Palembang four years ago.

Tolentino has been counting potential sources of golds starting with Obiena, whose Asian record of 6.0 meters he cleared twice this year in Europe, looked unreachable by his closest Asian rivals.

Hidilyn Diaz-Naranjo, the Olympic and world champion, is a hopeful to retain her weightlifting title  but she has to work doubly hard—and even cram. She’s competing at 59 kgs and not in 55 kgs where she won gold in Tokyo and at the world championships last year in Colombia.

Women’s golf won two golds in Jakarta but only one of the three players who pulled off the feat remains—Lois Kaye Go will partner with young sensation Rianne Malixi in matching the task as Yuka Saso, the invidual gold winner, is now a Japanese citizen, and Bianca Pagdanganan, is neck deep in her schedule as a pro.

With Princess Superal out to pursue a Ladies Professional Golfers Association card, Chanelle Avaricio was tapped as a last minute replacement but was denied by Hangzhou organizers.

Tolentino said he’s hopeful there are more possible sources of golds.

“Mininum of four golds, that’s OK,” said Tolentino, who will also join the parade in the opening ceremony at the Hangzhou Olympic Centre Stadium.

The Philippines fielded 272 athletes in 31 sports in Indonesia, but sent more this time with 395 athletes vying in 40 sports programmed by the capital of Zhejiang province.

An Asian Games record 12,417 athletes from 45 countries will vie for 481 gold medals in 40 sports all the way to the closing ceremony on October 8.

Tolentino said that if the female athletes lorded over the 2018 campaign, the men are expected to deliver this time.

“The men has a chance to bounce back this time. We have EJ [Obiena], Eumir Marcial in boxing, and in golf we have strong gets [Clyde Mondilla] and those in esports,” said Tolentino, also the president of the cycling federation and mayor of Tagaytay City.

The Filipino contingent in the opening ceremony will wear Barong Tagalog designed by world-class Filipino designer Rodolfo “Puey” Quinones.

Hangzhou organizers, meanwhile, vowed for a spectacular opening ceremony show, rain or shine.

They said that the ceremony will go on as scheduled adding breathtaking projections will depict the city’s past and present on the floor and background screens apart from showcasing a number of historical and cultural attractions.

Hangzhou has been battered by intermittent rains for the past week.

Also worth waiting is the glass-free 3D animations of athletic action and the unique way of lighting of the cauldron by a virtual torchbearer.

The ceremony from the welcome show, traditional parade of delegations, protocols and the main artistic performance will last for about 115 minutes.

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