[Sponsored Article] The 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games kicked off Saturday with two early medal events, Traditional Wrestling and Ju jitsu, followed by the much-anticipated Opening Ceremony on Sunday. Hosted in Turkmenistan’s capital city, Ashgabat, the exciting 12-day multi-sport event sees thousands of elite athletes from 65 delegations across Asia and Oceania, including a refugee team, competing for a total of 347 medal events. With 21 sports on the schedule, Ashgabat 2017 will have one of the most diverse ranges of sports in traditional Olympic, non-Olympic and Asian sports. As the beloved national sport of Turkmenistan, Wrestling has played an important role in Turkmen culture for generations. Now, with Wrestling events appearing at the Games for the first time in history, Turkmenistan is determined to perform strongly. At the age of just 17, Seydilla Tazayev is one of the leading medal prospects for Turkmenistan at Ashgabat 2017. This past June, the youngster made history at the Junior Asian Wrestling Championships in Taipei, winning Turkmenistan’s first continental gold medal since 1997 and its first-ever gold in Greco-Roman Wrestling at this level. The Turkmenistan Wrestling team will be shouldering some very high expectations. The team’s Iranian coach, Seyed Morad Mohammedi, himself an Olympic Bronze medallist, shared this feeling. “Currently, Turkmen Freestyle Wrestlers are the third or fourth best in the world. Our aim is to finish among the top two and I believe we’re well on our way there. Ashgabat 2017 will be a big proving ground for my team. I expect them to win at least three or four medals in all. Anything else would be disappointing,” he said. However, Japan, Iran and Kazakhstan will be tough challengers for Turkmenistan. Earlier in May, in the Asian Wrestling Championships hosted in New Delhi, Japan took the overall title with eight gold, three silver and five bronze medals —while Iran and Kazakhstan finished second and third respectively. The host country must hold its nerve in order to fulfil their lofty ambitions. Traditional Wrestling will be contested over two days at the Main Indoor Arena on 16 and 18 September. Other martial arts styles such as Muaythai, Sambo, Kurash, Belt Wrestling, Freestyle and Greco-Roman Wrestling, and Taekwondo, are also on the schedule of the Games. Another martial art to be featured on the first day of the event is Ju Jitsu. Originating from Japan, this honoured discipline is a method of close combat for defeating an armed opponent in which athletes use a short weapon, or no weapon at all. Ju Jitsu allows competitors to combine striking, grappling and submissions under rules that emphasise safety. Many of the potentially dangerous techniques such as scissor takedowns, neck locks and choking are all prohibited. Athletes will compete in three events, Ne-Waza, Duo Show and Full Ju Jitsu, over three days at the Martial Arts Arena on September 16 and 18 to 19. One team expected to do well is the UAE who have prepared a squad of 20 athletes, including six women, to undertake the challenge of earning at least 10 medals from what is considered to be one of the most demanding martial arts disciplines on the programme. Said Yousuf Al Beloushi, Technical Director at UAEJJF: “At the Asian Beach Games (held in Danang, Vietnam in September-October 2016), the Ju-Jitsu team returned with nine medals. I don’t see any reason why we should be lowering our ambitions. If they have the capacity to win nine medals, then the target has to be higher each time.” With the squad made up primarily of students, the competitors have taken advantage of the long summer break to train in Brazil where they underwent top-level conditioning, guided by leading masters from the South American Ju Jitsu powerhouse. Among the five Olympic sports featured in the Games, Track Cycling will definitely be the most popular event for the spectators making their way from Hong Kong. From Wong Kam-po to Marco Kwok Ho-ting and through to Sarah Lee Wai-sze — Hong Kong has produced no less than three world champions on the track since 2000. Two styles of Track Cycling competitions will be held during Ashgabat 2017 — Sprints and Endurance. The Sprint category comprises Individual and Team Sprints, while the Endurance races will consist of Keirin, Team Pursuit and Omnium. Since 2010, Lee has become a dominant figure in women’s Cycling, claiming a Bronze Medal at the London Olympic Games in the Keirin, before claiming her own world title a year later— in the 500m time trial. She has won three Asian Games Gold medals, in the 500m time-trial at Guangzhou 2010, and the Keirin and sprint at Incheon 2014. Ashgabat 2017 will be another great opportunity for her to impress her many loyal fans. The Hong Kong cycling team has been warming up nicely for Ashgabat 2017 by competing at the China National Games in Tianjin last week, where they won a total of 5 medals. Meanwhile, Turkmenistan has revealed the 17 athletes who will proudly represent their homeland in Track Cycling. The squad chosen to compete in the impressive Velodrome at the Ashgabat Olympic Complex is a blend of young talent and with experienced cyclists. At 33, Muhammetresul Hashojayev is the team’s oldest member and leader of the pack. He started his career as a Sambo wrestler but is now an established member of the Cycling team, keen to compete with the finest cyclists from all across Asia and Oceania. For sure, Hashojayev will be a powerful presence in the Individual Sprint race. “I’m stronger in Individual Sprints and will compete in that event as I’ve been training for Ashgabat 2017 for three years now,” he said. A total of 10 medal competitions will be contested between 18-23 September, five for men and five for women. The atmosphere is sure to be electric over six days of action-packed competition inside the state-of-the-art Velodrome. In addition to Asia, Ashgabat 2017 will be open to countries from Oceania. A team of 18 athletes has been selected to represent Australia for the first time at the Games. The Australian team will contest three sports - Weightlifting, Wrestling and Taekwondo – against world-class athletes from Asia. Chef de Mission of the Australian team and President of Wresting Australia, John Saul, said the opportunity for Australia’s youthful team will provide an invaluable experience. “Asia is really one of the hubs for martial arts and strength sports,” Saul said. “With some of the world’s leading countries like Iran and Japan being there, as well as host country Turkmenistan, it’s going to be a fabulous tournament, a real learning experience for our athletes.” High Performance Coordinator of the Australian Weightlifting Federation, Brandan Kennedy, revealed the six-strong Weightlifting squad, with an average age of 23, includes current Australian Champions Jacob Marquardt (94kg) and Brandon Wakeling (69kg). The two young weightlifters have been selected based on their future potential to be abe to compete with the world’s best. “For some of them they haven’t actually been on an international trip before, so while they’re moving up the ranks in Australia, it’s a chance to experience being on an international team, being in the village, being part of a complete team – not just a Weightlifting team – and representing Australia,” said Kennedy. With hours to go, the biggest ever edition of the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games will be open at the 45,000-seater Ashgabat Olympic Stadium. With an impressively modern infrastructure of the Ashgabat Olympic Complex, state-of-the-art facilities, and well-trained volunteers, Turkmenistan is now truly ready to host an incredible experience for the many proud participating athletes and the thousands of excited spectators who will cheer them on.