Odisha showcased its rich culture and tourism potential to the world at the inauguration of the 22nd Asian Athletics Championship, with some splendid cultural performances in a glittering evening at Kalinga Stadium here on Wednesday.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik inaugurated the championship, the biggest athletics event in the history of the state.
“We prepared a world-class event in just 90 days. With the Asian Championships, we welcome everyone to witness this spectacle. I am certain that this event marks the golden era of sports in Odisha,” Patnaik said.
Wishing the athletes success in their endeavour, International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) President Sebastian Coe commended the state government for building a world class stadium in a short span of time.
After the formal inauguration, a performer dressed up as ‘Olly’, the mascot of the championship, led the march-past of athletes. ‘Olly’ represents the endangered Olive Ridley turtles found in coastal Odisha.
Afghanistan led the marching contingents with hosts India bringing up the end.
The Indian contingent, led by their flag-bearer, women’s 800-metre runner Tintu Luka, was greeted with applause and cheers by the spectators. Over 60 Indian athletes and several officials took part in the event.
The girls, who ushered the national teams with placards of the country’s name, wore ethnic Sambalpuri saree, showcasing Odisha’s handloom sector.
More than 800 athletes from around 44 countries are to participate in 42 events — 21 for men and 21 for women. The Asian Athletics Championships will also serve as a qualifying event for the the World Championships to be held in London next month.
Artists from across the country performed in the inaugural function, starting from folk dance to Bollywood numbers, enthralling the jam-packed stadium.
The journey of Odisha, right from the Kalinga war during the reign of Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, to the spread of Buddhism in the region and its subsequent march into the modern age was told through various dance and art forms.
Bollywood music director Shankar Mahadevan rendered several songs, including Sambalpuri cult song “Rangabati”.