Asian Games kick off 'Gangnam Style'

Damon Wake
Factfile on the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea

Pop star Psy kicked off the Asian Games "Gangnam Style" in an energetic, K-Pop-fuelled ceremony Friday as North Korean athletes received loud cheers from South Korean fans.

Spectators and athletes alike joined in Psy's signature horse-riding dance as the singer belted out an electrifying rendition of his hit at Incheon's 61,000-seat stadium.

Wearing a glittering black suit and backed by a team of glamorous dancers, the star brought the three-hour spectacle to a thumping finale, heralding the start of 15 days of competition with 9,500 athletes.

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye officially opened the 17th edition of the Olympics-style event, after athletes from 45 countries had filed into the purpose-built stadium.

Actress Lee Young-Ae, the star of hit Korean drama "Dae Jang Geum", lit the Games' ceremonial flame, helped by two children.

But the ceremony's most touching moment came when the crowd bellowed their approval for the team from North Korea, with which South Korea technically remains at war.

The North's athletes and officials, in pristine white blazers and blue trousers, gave only the slightest of grins as they paraded -- in contrast to their enthusiastic welcome.

There were also big cheers for Japan and China, allaying fears they could get a frosty reception because of tensions over Beijing's long-standing support for Pyongyang and Tokyo's colonial rule.

- Fighting apathy -

Organisers will hope the ceremony will inject some much-needed buzz into the Games after slow ticket sales, just 18 percent early this week, generated an air of apathy.

Fans have shunned many of the matches so far in football, the only competition to start before the official opening, with barely 100 showing up for Jordan's win over United Arab Emirates on Thursday night.

Even the showcase opening, where top-price tickets cost $1,000, failed to draw a capacity crowd, with hundreds of seats still empty at the start of the spectacle.

The hosts will be desperate for a good early showing by their athletes to fire up the local fans, and the pressure will be on Jung Jee-Hae, who is favourite for the Games' first gold in the women's 10m air pistol on Saturday.

The show to start one of the world's biggest sporting events, themed around the concept of "One Asia" united, began with a blast of high-octane K-Pop from boy band Exo.

There were performances from Grammy award-winning Korean soprano Sumi Jo and Chinese concert pianist Lang Lang.

The torch was carried round the stadium by a series of Korean sports stars, including world number two woman golfer Park In-Bee and speed skater Lee Kyou-Hyuk.

However, it was not an athlete who lit the ceremonial flame, but actress Lee.

The 17th Asiad includes the full Olympic programme plus Asian favourites like kabaddi and wushu, making for a packed schedule of 36 sports with 439 gold medals on offer.

The mayor of South Korea's third city has admitted that Incheon, which has built 17 new venues, is in financial trouble because of the cost of hosting the Games.

South Korea are looking to consolidate second spot in the medals table behind China, who swept a record 199 gold medals and 416 overall at Guangzhou 2010.

China, who have won nearly 1,200 gold medals since they first competed in 1974, look certain to extend their dominance.

Beijing officials have played down expectations that China can match their performance of 2010, but there is little doubt they will top the medals table for the ninth time in a row.

The country's emerging stars set the last Asian Games alight and this edition will be an important proving ground as China looks towards the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.