Sapporo (Japan), Feb 19:The 8th Asian Winter Games opened here at the Sapporo Dome Sunday afternoon. Japan Crown Prince Naruhito inaugurated the Games after Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) President Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah delivered his address.
The OCA President hailed Japan’s partnership, saying Sapporo — and Japan — has played a big part in the development of winter sports throughout Asia, reports Xinhia news agency.
It is the third time Sapporo hosts the Asian Winter Games. The speed skating events of this edition will be held in Obihiro.
The 8th Asian Winter Games feature five sports, 11 disciplines and 64 events, and are expected to be the largest-ever of its kind, attracting around 1,500 participants from 30 countries and regions.
Australia and New Zealand are making their first appearance at the Games after accepting an invitation from the OCA. Since Oceania does not have regional Winter Games, this is also first time the two countries are competing on snow and ice at a continental event.
Japan has sent 146 athletes to compete in the Games and no doubt aim for the top finish, as in the past seven editions of the Asian Winter Games the host country has topped the final medal table six times.
The first gold medal of the Games was won by the host country earlier on Sunday and the medal ceremony was held at the opening ceremony.
Japan’s Eric Yanetani claimed the women’s snowboard giant slalom title. China’s Zang Ruxin and Gong Naiying took the second and third place in the event, respectively, winning two medals for China.
China sent a 236-member delegation including 157 athletes to the Asian Winter Games. The Chinese athletes will compete in all the 64 events. Short track speed skater Wu Dajing carried China’s national flag at the opening ceremony.
The 7th edition of the Asian Winter Games was hosted by Almaty, Kazakhstan, where China ranked the fourth place and the hosts topped the medal table for the first time. Japan and South Korea came second and third respectively.
In a highlight of the opening ceremony, former Japanese ski jumper Masahiko Harada, who helped his country to win a team gold at 1998 Nagano Winter Olympic Games, lit the Olympic cauldron. (Agencies)