|Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao attends the opening ceremony of the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou, south China's Guangdong Province, Nov. 12, 2010. (Xinhua/Zhang Duo)|
By Sportswriter Ji Ye
GUANGZHOU, Nov. 12 (Xinhua) -- The 16th Asian Games opened in central Guangzhou on Friday in a blaze of pyrotechnics as China staged the biggest sporting gala since the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao declared open the games in the middle of the Pearl River on Haixinsha Island, to the thunderous explosion of a massive fireworks display with residential buildings and the 610-meter high Guangzhou Tower as a backdrop.
"Remember, you are part of history right here, right now," Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) president Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah said at the opening ceremony.
"Please show us your best performance, and show us the spirit of sportsmanship, fair play, friendship and respect to your fellow athletes and officials."
Olympic diving champion He Chong ignited a giant firework whose flare shot up and lit the cauldron.
The Asiad flame returned to Guangzhou on Nov. 5 after being relayed in Beijing, Harbin, Changchun, Haiyang and 21 cities across Guangdong Province.
Before the lighting of the cauldron, the war-torn Afghanistan headed the athlete parade, which was concluded by host China with Olympic women's rowing champion Jin Ziwei as the flag bearer.
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea and South Korea marched in separately, unlike in the 2006 Games in Doha where the two delegations joined hands under the Korean Peninsula flag.
Befitting a city and a continent whose very foundations depend on the convergence of land and water, the opening ceremony centered on the river, its islands and its riverbanks.
Before the nearly 30,000 spectators on Haixinsha Island saw the athletes and officials, ten of thousands of ordinary Guangzhou residents had welcomed the games to their city as the 45 participating delegations sailed down the Pearl River from White Swan Bay.
Movie star Zhang Ziyi and pianist Lang Lang performed in a water-themed arts show that marked Guangzhou's history as China's gateway to the ancient Maritime Silk Road.
China aims to top the Asian Games medal table for the eighth consecutive time as the country sends its largest-ever squad to participate in all but one of the 42 sports.
Kabaddi, the only event China opted out of in Guangzhou, will remain in the Asian Games program as next host Icheon, South Korea, has proposed cutting six sports, including cricket and chess, in response to the OCA's decision to downsize the Asiad.
At last Games in Doha, China headed the table with 166 gold medals, beating South Korea into a distant second with 58 and Japan third with 50.
Thirty-five Olympic gold medalists, including 110-meter hurdler Liu Xiang and badminton ace Lin Dan, spearhead the 1,454-member Chinese delegation.
The Guangzhou Games is the largest ever Asian Games featuring 28 Olympic and 14 non-Olympic sports with 476 gold medals up for grabs. The Games will see the debuts of cricket, dance sports, dragon boat racing, roller sports and Go chess.
Guangdong Province built and renovated more than 70 stadiums. The air and water quality in Guangzhou has been improved, its transportation system updated and barrier-free facilities in place. Some 900,000 volunteers will go all out to ensure a comfortable and safe environment for the audience and athletes.
The Asian Games has urged Guangzhou residents to behave in a more civilized manner as a massive education campaign was launched shortly after the city won the hosting rights in 2004.
Guangzhou officials have handed out one million brochures and sent 40 million text messages to teach its citizens better manners and even how to smile.
The Asian Games will run through Nov. 27.
Special Report: 16th Asian Games