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Asian Games Begin in Doha Despite Storm Delays

Storm damage delayed the start of some competitions today at the 15th Asian Games in Doha, Qatar. In most cases, however, debris and water from overnight storms was cleared up for events to begin on time. The Asian Games formally opened on December 1 with a ceremony that was a whirlwind of Asian culture and Arabian splendor.

December 2, 2006 -- Morning play in the women's badminton competition was suspended today because the roof of the competition hall sprung a leak overnight -- allowing rain to drip onto the court.

Persistent rain and wet courts also delayed the start of the soft tennis competition by three hours. But other events began on time -- with baseball, beach volleyball, chess, hockey, kabaddi, and sepaktakraw among the competitions under way.

Sports officials from across Asia concede that major sports powers like China, Japan, and South Korea are likely to bring home the most medals.Bad Weather

The rain caused some parts of the lavish opening ceremony on December 1 to be canceled. Despite the weather, however, more than 40,000 spectators packed into Qatar's Khalifa Stadium in Doha to witness the multimillion-dollar opening ceremony that marked the formal start of the 15th Asian Games.

Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, declared the Asian Games open after the some 13,000 athletes paraded into the arena, accompanied by music from across Asia.

Athletes from 45 countries and regions entered the stadium -- with North Korea and South Korea marching together -- for the event billed as "the games of your life." They will compete in 46 different sports -- in a total of 424 different events.

The honor of lighting the 50-meter Asian Games cauldron was given to the emir's son Muhammad, who is the captain of Qatar's equestrian endurance team.

The Pageantry

Astride a purebred Arabian gelding, he received the Asian Games flame at the end of its 55,000-kilometer relay route. He rode up a flight of stairs to the top of the stadium to light the torch.

More than 30,000 fireworks lit up the night sky as the lavish production evoked the rich history of the region.

The Asian Games flame will remain alight until after the last competition is completed on December 15.

Sports officials from across Asia concede that major sports powers like China, Japan, and South Korea are likely to bring home the most medals. Indeed, during the first day of competition Chinese athletes had already won 10 medals, South Korea three.

High Hopes For Medals

But coaches and sports experts from Central Asia, Iran, and Afghanistan say they have high hopes their teams will not come home empty-handed.

The Asian Games are, by far, the largest international sports competition undertaken by Qatar. But sports officials in Doha say the hope it is just the beginning.

Qatar's Olympic Committee has announced plans to bid for the 2016 summer games when the application process begins next year.

Qatari Olympic Committee Secretary-General Sheikh Saoud bin Abd al-Rahman al-Thani insists that the 15th Asian Games will prove that Doha is able to host the Olympics.

Copyright (c) 2006 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

... Payvand News - 12/2/06 ... --

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