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Asian Games opening ceremony closes Gangnam Style

September 19, 2014

INCHEON, South Korea (AP) — A lavish opening ceremony at the Asian Games included poetry, the standard fireworks, and a rousing finale of singer PSY belting his signature hit “Gangnam Style” through a sequined microphone on Friday.

The ceremony opened in a festive atmosphere shortly after nightfall, with traditional Korean drums and performances by K-Pop groups that are among the country’s most popular cultural exports. They segued into a more refined atmosphere, with a poetry reading and stunning rendition of a traditional folk tune by soprano Jo Sumi.

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye declared the games open, and the torch was passed on its final leg to beloved South Korean actress Lee Young-ae, who lit the cauldron that will burn throughout the 16 days of the games.

Concluding the extravaganza in the 60,000-seat Asiad Main Stadium, PSY emerged from a darkened backstage to join Chinese classical pianist Lang Lang in a hard driving rock number before concluding with his 2012 worldwide megahit that had athletes and spectators dancing its trademark horse riding jig.

Organizers hope the high-tech event will boost interest and lagging ticket sales in the port city of Incheon, west of the capital Seoul.

Teams from the Far East to the Middle East are competing in 42 sports, including eight, such as bowling, cricket and squash, that aren’t part of the Olympic program.

China is fielding the largest team of almost 900 athletes, 68 percent of whom are taking part in the Asiad for the first time. Brunei has the smallest team at just 11 athletes.

A highlight of the games starts on Sunday, when China’s Olympic champion swimmer Sun Yang faces his chief rival, Park Tae-hwan of South Korea. They are due to clash in the 200-, 400-, and 1,500-meter freestyle events.

Although Park beat Sun for the gold in the 200 and 400 at the last Asian Games four years aago, Sun holds the world titles in those events, along with two golds, one silver and one bronze won at the 2012 London Olympics, where he became the first Chinese man to win an individual Olympic swimming gold. The pair tied for silver in the 200 in London.

Park skipped last year’s worlds but showed he was in form by setting the fastest time of the year in the 400 at last month’s Pan Pacific Championships in Australia.

Earlier, the Olympic Council of Asia executive board discussed awarding the next Asian Games in 2018 to Indonesia. That bid came about after Vietnam relinquished its hosting rights over the massive expense involved. It will be officially approved at a meeting of the OCA general assembly on Saturday.

Council President Sheik Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah said Indonesia already had much of the infrastructure in place, and had already planned on building additional facilities before making its offer.

Sheik Ahmad also indicated there were no hard feelings toward Vietnam, which has suffered badly from the global economic crisis.

“For that they were honest, and we really appreciate that they announced it early,” the sheik said.

The OCA was seeking to attract more long-term commercial sponsors to cover 60-70 percent of transport, security and other operating costs of running the games, allowing the hosts to turn a profit, he added.

“We’re trying to find a balance between income and expenditure,” he said.

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