Hangzhou gears up to host the 19th Asian Games
By Yuan Yuan  ·  2023-06-21  ·   Source: NO.26 JUNE 29, 2023
The mascots of the 19th Asian Games in the Grand Canal Asian Games Sports Park in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, on November 9, 2021 (XINHUA)

With nicknames like "Heaven on Earth," Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang Province in east China, obviously has a lot to show for itself: a rich history and culture, fabulously green panoramas and technological innovation. Moreover, soon, the Asian Games, Asia's biggest sports games, will add more appeal to the city. 

The Asian Games, also known as Asiad, are regional games sponsored by the Olympic Council of Asia for athletes from Asian countries affiliated with the International Olympic Committee. The first games took place in 1951 in New Delhi, India; from 1954 onward, they were held once every four years.

After a one-year delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 19th Asian Games and the Fourth Asian Para Games, with the former scheduled to run from September 23 to October 8 and the latter on October 22-28, are now entering the final stretch to their opening in Hangzhou. Five other cities in the province will co-host the events. On June 15, a flame-lighting ceremony at the Archaeological Ruins of Liangzhu City park in Hangzhou kicked off the 100-day countdown to the Asian Games. The site of the Liangzhu Archeological Ruins, which date back more than 5,000 years, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2019.

Ma Dongfeng, Executive Director of the Liangzhu Museum, located right next to the ancient site, told China News Service that the flame-lighting ceremony was held there specifically to "symbolize the light of the Liangzhu civilization crossing the boundaries of time and space to welcome the Asian Games."

Culture-laden designs 

Many of the elements of these games are inspired by traditional culture. The three mascots of the games, unveiled in April 2020, are called Chenchen, Congcong and Lianlian. The trio of robots will act as envoys of the Olympic spirit, peace and friendship and respectively represent Hangzhou's three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, with the West Lake and the ancient Great Canal connecting Hangzhou and Beijing being the other two.

A cong is a type of jade artifact, found in Chinese burial sites tracing back to the Neolithic period. The cong cylinders excavated at Liangzhu, which many scholars in the field believe were once of great cosmological significance and represented "Earth," have also inspired several other designs for the upcoming athletic event, from the games' cauldron to their breakdancing and table tennis venues.

The head of the torch, named "Eternal Flame," is also shaped like a cong, while the base part features patterns representing the eight rivers that flow through Zhejiang, symbolizing the joint efforts of the co-host cities in the province. For example, Ningbo will host the sailing competition; Jinhua and Wenzhou will host the soccer competition; and Shaoxing will manage the baseball, softball and sport-climbing competitions.


Avant-garde venues 

Zhou Jinqiang, deputy head of China's General Administration of Sport, told a press conference on June 14 that all 56 venues are ready for the games and 45 Olympic committees in Asia have signed up to participate in the regional event, with many dispatching their largest team ever. The number of Chinese athletes participating will exceed 900.

Yao Gaoyuan, Mayor of Hangzhou and secretary general of the organizing committee, said that only 12 of the venues are newly built; the rest are all upgraded existing facilities in keeping with the mega event's sustainable and economical themes.

The e-sports competitions, or the last confirmed medal sport at the 19th Asian Games, will take place inside a new Hangzhou venue. Located in an ecological park about an hour from the city center, this setting is China's first standard stadium for e-sports competitions.

Famous Chinese e-sports player Hong Lian visited the site in early June and called it "a player's dream." "The design of the stadium is very cool, featuring high-tech elements; and the lighting is fancy; I wish I could compete in this stadium," he said in a video uploaded to Douyin, China's TikTok, following his visit.

A short walk from the e-sports venue, a large park converted from an old industrial factory will serve as the Asian Games' largest theme park, where visitors will be able to watch all the competitions on eight large outdoor screens. The park will also host a range of activities as the event unfolds.

But these venues are not new to locals. During the one-year postponement caused by the pandemic, all the games venues were open to the public. And combined, they have received over 8 million visitors.

"Many of my friends have been practicing indoor baseball and softball in these venues since last year," Qian Chongliang, a resident of Shaoxing City, told Zhejiang Daily. "Neither sport is very popular in China and I think that's the point of the Asian Games—to bring these sports to a wider public."

As of writing, Qian is keeping a close eye on ticket information as his family, especially his children, look forward to catch some of the competitions set to take place in their hometown for roughly three weeks.

Once the games are wrapped up, 51 of the venues are set to regularly host major public fitness events, international events and professional training camps.

Online and offline facilities 

Parallel to the flame-lighting ceremony and relay, Smart Hangzhou 2022—a digital service platform developed by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, an Asiad partner, launched a digital torch relay. Users can enter the Smart Hangzhou 2022 mini-program in Alibaba's Alipay super app, to create their own version of a "digital torchbearer" and participate in the online relay.

The mini-program is one of the first one-stop digital service platforms for a major international multi-sport event. Since its launch in September 2020, it has registered over 50 million users.

The mini-program provides visitors with an all-in-one digital service for ticketing, transportation guides, competition schedules as well as recommendations on local cuisine, cultural events and sightseeing.

A complete and sprawling transportation web, including several rail lines and expressways, has been completed among the host and co-host cities, according to Li Yanyi, Vice Governor of Zhejiang. This will also provide a solid foundation for the integrated development of the Yangtze River Delta, roughly the size of Germany and an economic powerhouse of modern China, in the long run.

Facilities for the Fourth Asian Para Games are also fully ready, Zhao Sujing, an official from the China Disabled Persons' Federation, said at the press conference on June 14. "Right now, the candidates are competing for qualification and group training will start in Beijing and Zhejiang in July," Zhao said.

(Print Edition Title: Sprint to the Start Line)   

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon 

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