BANGKOK, Thailand, Dec. 6 -- Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej ('BOOM-ee-pon Ah-doon-ya-det') formally opened the 13th Asian Games in Bangkok, highlighting a lavish ceremony featuring fireworks and thousands of musicians and dancers dressed in traditional costumes. A total of 9,469 athletes and officials from 41 countries are taking part in Asia's biggest sporting event, with competition in 36 sports for 377 gold medals.
King Bhumibol, who celebrated his 71st birthday on Saturday, received a colorful salute from thousands of spectators carrying candles, led by Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai, at Bangkok's Rajamangala National Stadium. Athletes from participating nations then paraded past the royal box where the king, clad in a blue Asian Games blazer, looked on with the rest of the Thai royal family. Earlier today, Prime Minister Chuan, armed with a torch, impressed spectators by running a fast first lap of a relay featuring 216 dignitaries, one for each year since Bangkok was founded. The first gold medal of the games went to Japan's Naoko Takahashi, 26, who set a games record for the women's marathon despite the heat, high humidity and heavy traffic along the race's route from the Ancient capital of Ayutthaya to Bangkok's Thammasat University Sports Complex. Despite a series of organizational problems, including the last- minute withdrawal of Saudi Arabian athletes, organizers say the event is the biggest and most elaborate in the history of the games. Preparations, including the construction and renovation of three main stadiums and an athletes' village, cost an estimated 6 billion baht ($167 million). ---
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