Hangzhou: China’s eastern city of Hangzhou rounded off the 19th Asian Games on Sunday with a colourful and “joy”-themed closing ceremony after hosting the continental sporting extravaganza which organisers hailed as “one of the finest” ever.
Watched on by China’s premier Li Qiang and a packed stadium hundreds of performers wearing glittery outfits and waving bight lights skipped, shimmied and jigged around, among and occasionally with the athletes.
Many stood in a large circle facing spectators and waving their lights up and down like cheerleaders.
Spectators, who took part in stadium announcer-led rehearsals beforehand, joined a long-lasting, steady rhythm of clapping to match the beat of upbeat music which played in the background.
In a throwback to the opening ceremony last month, a digitally-projected athlete extinguished the flame in the cauldron before running the length of the stadium, waving and then running and disappearing away into the sky.
The smiling performers then jigged and ran on stage in a dizzying and sometimes slightly kitsch and camp morass of colour, noise and dancing.
Taking place amid tight security the less-than two hour ceremony also included a handover to the hosts of the next Asian Games in 2026, the Japanese city Nagoya.
But contrary to tradition Nagoya mayor Takashi Kawamura did not attend. That was due to comments he made over a decade ago denying that Japanese troops inflicted a wartime massacre on the Chinese city of Nanjing, Japanese outlet Mainichi reported.
Instead his deputy, as well as the governor of Aichi prefecture, which will co-host the 2026 Games with Nagoya, were there and were handed the torch by the hosts, albeit via the acting President of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), Randhir Singh, who stood between the Chinese and Japanese officials.
With athletes energised by warm support from home fans, China topped the medals table for an 11th successive Games, taking an artistic swimming title on Sunday, the final day.
The hosts’ 201st gold left them two better than their previous best of 199 at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games.
The very last gold went to Taiwan’s Gu Shiau-shuang, who beat Kazakhstan’s Moldir Zhangbyrbay in the karate, defending the women’s 50kg kumite title she won in Jakarta in 2018.
Taiwan’s 19th gold medal equalled their best ever haul achieved at the Bangkok Games in 1998.
Japan took the other title on Sunday, edging Macau in the men’s team kata karate competition.
Organisers said 12,407 athletes from 45 nations competed in 40 sports at the Hangzhou Games, which were delayed for a year due to Covid-19.
With shiny, new stadiums and crowds free to roam between venues, China’s first multi-sport event in the post-Covid era has been a far more festive occasion than last year’s Beijing Winter Olympics which were held under extreme health protocols.
“We have hosted the most successful Asian Games in history” said Chen Weiqiang, Executive Secretary General of the Hangzhou Asian Games Organising Committee and vice-mayor of Hangzhou.
“It can be said that during the whole 16 days of the competition, the people of Hangzhou basked in a sea of joy.” Local organisers have shared a vast array of Games-related data including ticket sales and revenue and number of meals eaten at venues. But they repeatedly declined to announce the cost or an estimate of the cost of hosting this mega event which coincides with the country’s economic slump.