SAPPORO 2017: From Australian Olympic Committee: The spectacular Sapporo Dome played host to the opening ceremony of the eighth Asian Winter Games and Australia’s delegation welcomed the opportunity to march in the official proceedings.
The Australians were greeted by cheers and applause from the enthusiastic Japanese crowd and for some team members there were familiar faces waving back.
Brothers Keanu and Denali Blunden – who will compete in Short Track events beginning on Monday – were fortunate to have their parents in the crowd.
It was a ‘heart-warming’ experience for older brother Keanu.
“The thing I enjoyed most was walking down the big pathway and seeing the huge crowd,” Keanu said. “My mum and dad were there and I could see them.”
The boys have had two days to familiarise with the Makomanai Indoor Skating Rink where their events will be held, and 18-year-old Keanu has been keeping a watchful eye over 16-year-old Denali.
“Training has been going really well. I am conscious of my own skating but I also have to look out for my brother.
“The ice here is good so we hope to get a good result.”
The Australians were led into the Dome by flagbearer Deanna Lockett and were greeted by a full stadium of spectators who had assembled at the iconic venue for the Games official opening.
“Kind of a similar atmosphere to Sochi, just a little bit of a smaller scale,” Lockett said. “It’s good having other sports around because most of the time we are at just short track events so it’s a bit different that way and it’s nice having staff and everyone working together as a team.”
This is the first occasion that Australia has been invited to the Asian Winter Games and the team of 30 athletes is taking advantage of every opportunity. The event has attracted 1,200 athletes from 32 nations with Australia and New Zealand participating as guests.
Alpine skier Zanna Farrell is enjoying getting to know athlete from other sports.
“Nice to meet people from different sports but from the same country,” Farrell said.
17-year-old Farrell wasn’t expecting the reception waiting for her and her team-mates at the Sapporo Dome.
“Really cool to be part of such a huge event and watch all the other teams go out.”
“It didn’t look that big on the screen where we were watching the other teams walk out, but when we walked out it was huge. A lot bigger than what I expected.”
Now the opening ceremony is over flagbearer Lockett is looking forward to competition getting underway.
“I’ve been skating good the past two days during training,” Lockett said.” I’m ready to face off against all the top Asian girls who are here.”
An in-form Lockett recently matched her personal best World Cup result and is feeling good.
“I’m still working on some racing aspects, I’m physically fit and injury free so I’m that’s a good thing.”
Day 1 of the Asian Winter Games will see Australians in action across Snowboard Slalom, Short Track and Speed Skating as well as Cross Country Skiing.
Live streaming is available on the Sapporo17 website.
(Ed: The first events for biathlon are the Sprint races on Thursday 23 February, followed by the Pursuit on Friday 24 February, with the Mixed Relay scheduled for Saturday 25 February)