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HANGZHOU, (China): China’s premier Li Qiang joined thousands of spectators for a colourful and “joy”-themed closing ceremony for the 19th Asian Games at the Olympic Stadium in Hangzhou on Sunday.

Hundreds of dancers wearing glittery outfits and waving lights skipped, shimmied and jigged around, among and occasionally with the athletes. Many stood in a large circle facing spectators and waving their lights like cheerleaders.

Taking place amid tight security, the ceremony planned to showcase some of the highlights from the more than two weeks of competition and to signal a handover to the hosts of the next Asian Games in 2026, the Japanese city Nagoya.

The mayor of the next city to host a Games traditionally attends such closing ceremonies.

But Nagoya mayor Takashi Kawamura was not expected in Hangzhou due to comments he made over a decade ago denying that Japanese troops inflicted a wartime massacre on the Chinese city of Nanjing, Japanese outlet Mainichi reported.

The governor of Aichi prefecture, which will co-host the 2026 Games with Nagoya, was expected to attend.

With athletes energised by warm support from home fans, China topped the medals table for an 11th successive Games, taking an artistic swimming title on the final day.

The hosts’ 201st gold left them two better than their previous best of 199 at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games.

The very last gold went to Taiwan’s Gu Shiau-shuang, who beat Kazakhstan’s Moldir Zhangbyrbay in the karate, defending the women’s 50 kg kumite title she won in Jakarta in 2018.

Taiwan’s 19th gold medal equalled their best ever haul achieved at the Bangkok Games in 1998.

Japan took the other title on Sunday, edging Macau in the men’s team kata karate competition.

Organisers said 12,407 athletes from 45 nations competed in 40 sports at the Hangzhou Games, which were delayed for a year due to COVID-19.

With shiny, new stadiums and crowds free to roam between venues, China’s first multi-sport event in the post-COVID era has been a far more festive occasion than last year’s Beijing Winter Olympics which were held under extreme health protocols.

“We have hosted the most successful Asian Games in history” said Chen Weiqiang, Executive Secretary General of the Hangzhou Asian Games Organising Committee and vice-mayor of Hangzhou.

“It can be said that during the whole 16 days of the competition, the people of Hangzhou basked in a sea of joy.”

Yet the Games have been overshadowed by political tensions, including a dispute with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) over North Korea’s flag.

WADA banned the flag at all major sporting events, outside the Olympic and Paralympic Games, in 2021 after deeming that North Korea had failed to implement an effective testing programme.

But the flag has been displayed throughout the Games with the backing of the Olympic Council of Asia, triggering a threat of sanctions from WADA.

The OCA confirmed on Sunday the dispute was still not resolved.

“We are in touch with them and we are trying to resolve this issue hopefully in the next couple of days we will be able to get through to what WADA wants,” acting OCA director general Vinod Kumar Tiwari told reporters.

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