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The backstory: The Asian Games, often referred to as the "Asian Olympics," have quite a history, dating all the way back to 1951. It’s a major sporting showdown where athletes from all across Asia gather to compete, kind of like the Olympics but specifically for Asia. Over the years, it's become the second-largest multi-sporting event globally, right behind the Olympics. This year marks the 19th edition, hosted in Hangzhou, China.
The event hosts most major Olympic sports, of course, but there are also some unique games that are part of the event. For example, this year’s Games feature competitions for chess and Xiangqi (Chinese chess). To engage a younger audience, the Games is also embracing contemporary sports like esports, breakdancing and sport climbing. Some games like FIFA Online 4, Street Fighter V and League of Legends are making their debut as official events this year.
More recently: The 19th Asian Games faced a one-year delay due to COVID restrictions. This is China’s biggest event since the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing in 2022, which still faced strict COVID regulations.
The development: On Saturday, Chinese President Xi Jinping officially marked the commencement of the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou. This grand event, hosted in front of a crowd of 80,000, featured prominent figures like International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The ceremony had a grand theme highlighting water, the city's history and its tech prowess.
This year's Asian Games are making headlines as the largest edition ever, with around 12,000 athletes from 45 nations and territories competing across 40 sports. They're chasing after 481 gold medals during these intense 15 days. Speaking of gold, China snagged the first gold of the Games in the women's lightweight doubles sculls rowing.
“Finally, we can gather for the 19th Asian Games,” said Raja Randhir Singh, acting president of the Olympic Council of Asia.
"Xi Jinping wants to use these Games to showcase that China is still an economic leader, the economic locomotive of Asia ... as a response to Western criticism," said Marcus Chu of Hong Kong's Liangnan University, who researches Chinese sports-politics.
“Stepping on to the podium today is a new starting point,” said Qiu Xinping in women’s lightweight double sculls. “To prepare for next year’s Paris Olympics with all our strength is equivalent to starting from scratch.”
“It is really a pleasure to see that, after the three years of pandemic, the interest that has been generated for these Games,” said Vinod Kumar Tiwari, acting director general of the Olympic Council of Asia.
“Together, we will celebrate the beauty and diversity of e-sports,” said Wissam Trkmani, the project and operations manager at the Olympic Council of Asia, speaking at the Road to Asian Games opening ceremony in June.