Dubbed China’s “mini-Olympics”, the curtains were raised for the 13th National Games of China here on Sunday evening at the Tianjin Olympic Center Stadium, nicknamed the “Water Drop”.
Chinese President Xi Jinping declared the country’s premier multi-sport event open in the eastern metropolis, just 113.3km away from the capital Beijing.
Among those present at the ceremony was President of International Olympic Committee (IOC) Thomas Bach, who’s on a visit to Beijing inspecting the preparations for the 2022 Winter Games.
Before a spectacular artistic performance mixing music and dance, fireworks and a cultural extravaganza, the athletes paraded in Olympic style into the stadium.
The opening ceremony reached its climax as the Games’ mascot “JinWa” and a robot lit a cauldron with the flame that arrived in the stadium after a 20-day relay.
Twenty-two days ago, on the country’s national Fitness Day, the flame for the 13th National Games was ignited by 2012 London Olympic weightlifting champion Lyu Xiaojun at the Siyuan square in Sanchakou on the Haihe River, which is considered the origin of Tianjin.
This year, the quadrennial Games bear the theme “National Games for a Healthy China”. The event will draw a total of 12,721 athletes to participate in 417 events across 33 sports, plus 7,620 amateurs in 126 events of 19 mass programs.
130 finals in 12 Olympic sports including marathon, synchronized swimming and tennis, as well as in 17 out of 19 popular programs, such as taichi, chess and rock climbing, have already been completed ahead of the opening ceremony.
The country’s top comprehensive sport gala, inaugurated in 1959, serves as an important occasion for athletes to test their mettle for the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo and to nurture future stars.
The Games have become a battlefield for the country’s Olympic heroes to guard their honor and pride, as well as for young talents to show off their full potential in front of the whole nation.
The 38 delegations taking part here represent almost all of China’s provinces, municipalities, autonomous regions, the Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions, the People’s Liberation Army, the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps and various sporting associations of trades such as railways and coal mining.
Medal-winning swimmers, divers, badminton players and track and field athletes who have just returned from their respective world championships, namely multi-title holder Sun Yang, star shuttler Chen Long and newly-crowned shot putter Gong Lijiao will compete under the flags of their provincial sports authorities.
In an unprecedented move, the 13th National Games adapted the innovative concept of allowing all Chinese people the chance to participate in sports, reopening the door to amateur athletes after 30 years and allowing overseas Chinese athletes to compete as well.
22 overseas athletes of Chinese heritage had applied for participation in the Tianjin Games. Eight of them reached the bar and were permitted to enter finals in equestrian, shooting, athletics and swimming.
4,128 grassroots runners were among those who benefited from the reforms introduced to the National Games, earning the chance to compete in the marathon events alongside professional racers last May.
Another innovation saw Deng Shangyu, 72, become the eldest competitor in the tournament after bridge was included in the 13th Games’ programs as one of the mass events.
Tianjin 2017 is also the first time that a youth group has been added to some sports like swimming and athletics. And an incentive has been offered to coaches as well, who will have the chance to be honored for their work with winning athletes on the podium at award ceremonies.
Ahead of the opening ceremony that kicked off on Sunday, host city Tianjin worked tirelessly for a successful event, calling up 17,000 college students as volunteers, and enlisting more than 1,000 medical workers from 36 local hospitals to provide medical services for athletes in venues and for journalists at the media village.
The biggest-ever edition of the National Games will run through September 8.
Watch full video of the opening ceremony: http://bit.ly/2xq3qSq