The colours and rhythm of the land provided an eye-catching backdrop as Indonesia ushered in the 18th Asian Games in style, with the country’s president himself delivering a humorous cameo.
Joko Widodo, who will be contesting for a second term next year, kicked off the ceremony, with visuals showing him outmanoeuvring a bunch of protestors by getting out of his car and taking a daring ride on a bike to the main venue, the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium.
Reminding one of Queen Elizabeth’s appearance with James Bond at the London 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony, Widodo’s act evoked ripples of laughter, setting the mood just right for the occasion on a warm evening.
The president then took the centrestage in the middle of the two-and-a-half hour programme, declaring the Games open and urging the athletes of the continent to come together with energy in this celebration of sport.
Energy of Asia is the theme of these Games and the ceremony exemplified it, with drumbeats and fireworks forming a boundary around delectable moments of music and dance. Mother Nature herself too seemed a participant as Indonesia presented its hills and valleys as a captivating background for the highlight of the evening.
In a stirring relay at a slow pace, the country’s Asian Games gold medallists carried the Games torch to the arena, passing it from hand to hand up a hillock, portraying their rise in sport. And near to the pinnacle stood a smiling Susi Susanti, badminton legend and the gold medallist at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. Receiving the torch, she gently lowered it to light the cauldron, as drumbeats rose in crescendo and fireworks lit up the night sky.
Hundreds of performers had formed varied patterns wowing the thousands at the venue earlier in the evening, welcoming the participants to the venue. From all corners of Asia they came, leaving their worries behind, smiling and waving.
Afghanistan led the parade of nations which also featured a unified Korean contingent marching in, as they did at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000 and also at the Busan 2002 Asian Games.
The parade reflected a change in attitudes around the continent, with Islamic Iran having a woman flag-bearer for the first time in an Asian Games. Shooter Elaheh Ahmadi was the proud lady leading in her country to a warm applause.
Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra led in the Indian contingent, with athletes and officials smartly attired in blue suits and trousers. As per tradition, hosts Indonesia, fielding the biggest contingent here, brought up the rear, arriving to thunderous cheers.
Another short spell of music and dance then followed the lighting of the cauldron, bringing the curtains down on a wonderful night of art. Having overcome problems and worries to reach this point, Indonesia would hope the feel-good factor will remain when the Games conclude on September 2.