Asia's largest multisport competition for winter opened here in Japan on Sunday with a celebration of building connections on the continent.
Under the slogan, "Beyond Your Ambitions," Sapporo in the Hokkaido region will host the eighth Asian Winter Games through next Sunday. Speed skating will take place in the sub-host city of Obihiro, 200 kilometers east of Sapporo.
In all, 64 gold medals will be up for grabs for athletes from 32 nations in five sports and 11 disciplines.
South Korea, with 142 athletes in five sports, is aiming to set its Winter Asiad record with 15 gold medals to be among the top two nations. The country captured its first gold medal earlier Sunday, as alpine snowboarder Lee Sang-ho won the men's giant slalom race. Fellow South Korean Choi Bo-gun won silver.
Sapporo is hosting the Winter Asiad for the third time. It staged the inaugural competition in 1986 and again in 1990.
The continental event used to be held every four years, but the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) decided in 2009 to move it to the year before the Winter Olympics, starting with the 2017 competition.
In the prologue of the opening ceremony at Sapporo Dome, the Sapporo Symphony Orchestra welcomed the guests with Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" and Leonard Bernstein's "Candide Overture."
The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Northern Army Band took the stage for the opening segment of the ceremony. After the participating athletes entered the stadium, Katsuhiro Akimoto, president of the Winter Asiad organizing committee, welcomed the participants to the competition.
Alpine skier Jung Dong-hyun served as South Korea's flag bearer.
Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah, president of the OCA, then declared the opening of the Asian Games, as the OCA flag was raised.
Female curler Mari Motohashi, captain of the Japanese delegation, and male hockey player Go Tanaka, the host country's flag bearer, took the athletes' oath.
The ceremonies for the first medals won in Sapporo then followed, with South Korean Lee Sang-ho, the men's giant slalom champion, among six medalists honored.
The Sapporo Games' very first gold medal went to Eri Yanetani of Japan in the women's giant slalom snowboard, which was held minutes ahead of the men's race. (Yonhap)