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DOHA: Arabian horses galloped against a shimmering backdrop of thousands of neon-lit pearls as the 15th and biggest Asian Games opened with a multi-million dollar sensory feast on Friday.
Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani declared open Asia's biggest ever celebration of sport during a spectacular display of fireworks, twinkling lights and traditional Asian dancing, played to the sound of 40,000 beating drums.
The climax of a lavish ceremony came when the Emir's son Mohammad, the Qatari endurance team captain, charged up the steps of the Khalifa Stadium on a pure-bred Arab gelding to light the 50m cauldron that will burn throughout the Games.
Although an untimely spell of wind and rain saw some of the more daring elements cancelled, the multi-million dollar ceremony will be one to remember for Qataris, who hope the Games will serve as a springboard to hosting the 2016 Olympics.
The theme of the opening ceremony was the story of a Qatari boy – “the seeker” – who dreamed of discovering pearls and freeing his family from hardship by becoming a pilgrim, a truth-seeker and a hero to his people.
The floor of the stadium was transformed into a rippling ocean, which became the stage for the boy's journey through life.
A torrid storm was stirred up by the sea giant Abu Darya, who hurled bolts from his trident triggering loud explosions around the Khalifa stadium.
A giant falcon swooped down from the sky to rescue the seeker and fly him to safety, where he discovered his power in an astralobe and lit the arena with an assortment of green, blue and red lasers beams.
Powerful Arabian horses galloped around the stadium as caravans and traditional dancers from Thailand, Kazakhstan, Japan, China, India twisted and twirled in a sweeping representation of several thousand years of Asian history.
In a show of unity for a troubled region eager to place itself on the sporting map, the arrival of athletes from fellow Arab states drew the most rapturous applause from the crowd.
Aside from the 642-strong Qatari delegation, the biggest cheers were saved for strife-torn Palestine, whose volleyball team were unable to compete because of the conflict in Gaza. – Reuters
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