The Asian Winter Games officially opened Sunday, drawing a record number of competitors from the cold of northern Asia all the way to the sweltering heat of the Middle East.
More than 1,100 athletes and officials from 26 countries and regions are taking part in the Games that run until Feb. 4, competing for medals in 47 events in the last major multi-sport event staged in China before the 2008 Summer Olympics at Beijing.
Chinese President Hu Jintao declared the Games open at a ceremony at the Changchun Wuhan Gymnasium.
The first gold medals will be awarded Monday in the women's 3,000 meters and the men's 5,000 meters speedskating.
Japan is the defending champion, having won 24 golds at home in Aomori four years ago, but China is expected to dominate this time, with South Korea and Kazakhstan also in the running.
Besides the traditional winter sports countries, there are men's ice hockey teams from Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, and a single alpine skier from Palestine.
"On behalf of the Olympic Council of Asia I welcome you all to this beautiful city of Changchun, the city of ice and snow, to celebrate this sixth Asian Winter Games," said Olympic Council of Asia president Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah.
The opening ceremony included the traditional entrance by each team. Some countries, such as Iraq, had only an official march in and no athletes.
And although they will compete separately, athletes from rival North and South Korea marched together in the opening ceremony.
The Games in Changchun, a northeastern Chinese city of 7 million people, are the sixth edition of an event first held with fewer than 300 competitors at Sapporo, Japan, in 1986.
China has a 234-member delegation, including 160 athletes, the most of any country. Japan, South Korea and Kazakhstan have all sent more than 100 competitors.
Athletes will compete for medals in speedskating, ice hockey, biathlon, alpine skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, freestyle skiing, figure skating and curling.
China has also vowed tough anti-doping controls with more than 140 anti-doping staff.
"The doping control has already started," said An Li, a secretary-general of the Changchun organizing committee.
There has been a lack of snow at the Beidahu ski resort near Chanchun, venue for the skiing and cross-country events, but organizers have used artificial snow to make up the shortfall.
China will be banking on such stars as freestyle skier Han Xiaopeng, who surprised at Turin in 2006 to win China's first-ever Olympic skiing medal, and women's 500-meter short track skating Olympic champion Wang Meng.
The veteran figure skating duo Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, the Olympic bronze medal winners, are also on the team.