People pose for a photograph with Atung, one of the official mascots for the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta. Image Credit: AFP

Jakarta: All the roads in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, will be heading in one direction today — to the Gelora Bung Karno Main Stadium where the 18th Asian Games will officially get under way.

The venue played host to the Games in 1962 under the country’s founding president Sukarno. This time, for the first time in the history of Asia’s biggest sporting extravaganza, the Games are jointly hosted by two cities — Jakarta and Palembang.

Athletes will be competing in 40 sports and 67 disciplines consisting of 28 Olympic sports. Four new Olympic sports, and eight non-Olympic sports. including the UAE’s favourite discipline jiu-jitsu. have been included. Another first at these Games will be e-sports, featured as a non-medal category demonstration sport.

The opening ceremony stage will showcase a towering mountain as its background, accompanied by Indonesia’s unique plants and flowers.

The stage, made by artists from Bandung and Jakarta, will also become the arena for a total of 4,000 dancers to perform, choreographed by renowned choreographers Denny Malik and Eco Supriyanto.

The ceremony will commence from 4.45pm UAE time and feature the traditional ‘Parade of Athletes’, including the UAE contingent.

It has not all been plain sailing for Indonesia since the nation agreed to host the Games following Vietnam’s withdrawal due to spiralling costs.

Jakarta, home to 10 million people, sits on swampy land. The Java Sea surrounds it, 13 rivers run through the capital and it is one of the fastest-sinking cities in the world.

Running alongside the athletes’ village in Kemayoran in Central Jakarta is the Sentiong River, which has earned the local moniker Kali item (the black river) as it is also one of the most polluted. The government commissioned a giant nylon net worth $40,000 (Dh146.920) to cover-up the river for which it received flak from all quarters.

Jakarta police have also cracked down on thieves and robbers in the capital. Over 1,000 personnel were deployed for the operation, which began on July 3. By mid-July, the police had detained 320 people and shot 52 people of whom 11 died. Security has been beefed up with 100,000 soldiers deployed and another 100,000 on standby.

The UAE have landed with a record delegation of 217, including 138 athletes. Though one can hope for a medal haul for the UAE in jiu-jitsu, making its debut in the Asiad, there are other disciplines in which they could shine.

The UAE, who first took part in the continental sporting showpiece in 1978 in Bangkok, will also be expecting medals in shooting, jet ski and athletics.

Best performance

After going without a medal until the 1990 Beijing Asian Games, the nation made a significant impact at the 1994 Hiroshima Games where they won four medals — one silver and three bronzes. Their best performance so far came at the 2006 Doha Games where they returned with 10 medals which included three gold, four silver and three bronze.

The last Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, UAE was a bit disappointing as they finished 25th with the overall medals tally reading one gold and three bronze medals.

The 18th Asian Games gives UAE a huge opportunity for redemption and if Alia Saeed Mohammad can retain her title in the women’s 10,000 metres it will be the first in the history of the Games. Alia will also be leading UAE’s charge in the 5,000 metres. The young Fatma Al Hossani will also be looking to make her presence felt in the women’s discus throw event.

The five men to watch out for in the men’s category are: Mayouf Hassan (800m), Nafeeb Salmeen (200m), Omar Al Sulfa (200m), Saud Al Za’abi (800m, 1,500m) and Mohammad Abbas (triple jump).

UAE’s ace cyclist Yusif Mirza was among the favourites for bagging the title in Jakarta, especially after clinching the Asian Championship earlier this year. However, the UAE cycling team comprising of Ahmad Mansouri, Mohammad Mansouri and Saif Bin Zayed, will be worried with the news that Mirza was involved in a crash on Thursday during the BinckBank Tour, Belgium, in his final preparation event riding for UAE Team Emirates.

As per a Team UAE tweet, X-rays displayed no fractures on the left wrist. but contusion is confirmed.

In shooting, the onus will be on Saif Bin Futais and Saif Al Shamsi in the sheet and double trap, respectively.

The presence of Rio Olympic bronze medallist Sergiu Toma makes UAE’s chances bright in the judo men’s 81kg category. Toma’s teammates Ivan Romarenko and Victor Sartov are also capable of pulling a surprise on their day.

The equestrian team looks formidable with the presence of Shaikha Latifa Al Maktoum, Shaikh Majid Al Qasimi, Mohammad Shafi Al Rumaithi, Abdullah Mohammad Al Marri and Mohammad Ganem Al Hajri.