Top leaders of North and South Korea made a rare show of unity on Saturday as the Incheon Asian Games closed in celebratory mood.
Fans turned out in numbers to farewell thousands of athletes who have competed in the South Korean city over the past 15 days. And North Korea's de facto number two, Hwang Pyong-So sat near to South Korean Prime Minister Jung Hong-Won in an unusual scene between the rival states who are technically at war.
Hwang and two other top officials are on a surprise visit which marks the highest-level contact in years and will raise hopes of a breakthrough in ties. Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) president Sheikh Ahmad Al-Falah Al-Sabah declared the 15-day Games closed and then made a heart shape with his arms above his head.
"It's time for us all to say goodbye to Incheon and goodbye to Korea," he told the crowd at Incheon Main Stadium, before the OCA flag was lowered.
"The Asian Games are not only about medals, however they are about representing your country, trying your best and taking pride in your flag. They are about sportsmanship and fair play and about friendship and team spirit," said the Kuwaiti official.
The ceremony, including K-Pop acts and a taekwondo display, ended the Games for another four years until Jakarta hosts the next edition in 2018.
China topped the medals table with 151 golds, roughly a quarter down on their 2010 record haul of 199 and their lowest total in 12 years.
Games attendance has been patchy but a respectable crowd turned out on a chilly evening for the closing ceremony, where K-Pop quartet Sistar, a children's choir and a Kazakh folk dancer were among the diverse attractions.
South Korean prime minister Jung took his seat in the VIP area and he was shortly joined by North Korea's Hwang. Both men stood as a giant South Korean flag was brought into the arena, and they rose again and waved when North Korea's team entered as part of the athletes' parade.
One of the biggest cheers of the night was reserved for North Korean weightlifter Kim Un-Guk, a nominee for the tournament's Most Valuable Player award.
South Korean fans have been supportive and respectful of the North Korean athletes, who are kept segregated from the public and media by tight security.
Hwang's trip comes at a time when North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has not been seen in public for a month, fuelling speculation about his health and even triggering unsubstantiated rumours of a coup.
Finally the Games flame was extinguished, symbolically marking the end of the regional Olympics with 439 gold medals handed out in 36 sports, plus 17 world records and six doping cases.
Distance runners Alia Saeed and Betlhem Belayneh represent the UAE’s last chance of adding to their Asian Games medals tally as the pair line up for today’s 5,000m at the Incheon Asiad Main Stadium.
Saeed will be looking to pull-off an impressive double after the 23-year-old stormed to gold in the 10,000m earlier in the week.
The Ethiopian-born Emirati clocked her 5,000m personal best at the Diamond League in Liege last July, posting a 15:24.94 and will enter today’s affair brimming with confidence.
Only two women in the 17-runner field today have gone faster in the 5,000m this season, Bahrain’s Mimi Belete and Japan’s Riko Matsuzaki.
Belete, 26, is the defending champion and she has already picked up a medal this week, claiming silver in the 1,500m.
While all eyes will be on Saeed, it is in fact her friend and compatriot Belayneh who had captured gold in the 5,000m at the Asian Athletics Championships last year in Pune. She made history for the UAE in 2013 by claiming two gold in Pune but has been riddled with injuries this year and finished a disappointing fourth in the 1,500m in Incheon.
Saeed will be seeking redemption however on the track today, where she and Belayneh are the country’s last hope of a medal these Games.
Meanwhile, UAE sailing officials believe the future is bright for their sport in the emirates after young prospects like Salama Al Mansoori, Hamad Al Hammadi and Mohamed Al Hammadi, all gained invaluable experience in Incheon.
Al Mansoori was the youngest sailor in the field and at the tender age of 12, has only been training in the sport for just seven months.
“We wanted to give our young sailors a taste of what it’s like on the world stage and I believe coming here has motivated them,” said Abdullah Al Obaidly, the secretary general of the UAE Sailing Federation.
“We’ve noticed that sailing is proving a big hit amongst our young girls in the UAE and we believe that Salama’s participation here can drive more females into the sport.”
The UAE narrowly missed out on adding to their medal tally at the Asian Games yesterday as Sheikha Latifa Al Maktoum and the men’s bowling team saw their hopes of bronze ended by small margins.
Sheikha Latifa was beaten by 1.39 seconds with Taizo Sugitani of Japan, clocking 30.95 seconds in the equestrian individual jumping competition to win bronze.
And only four pins was the difference for the men’s bowling team, who were edged out by Hong Kong as they finished joint-fourth with China.
The horse jumping team, also featuring Abdullah Mohammed Al Marri and Mohammed Al Owais made a solid start. However as the competition progressed, only Sheikha Latifa, on her 11-year mare Peanuts De Beaufour, remained in contention for a medal.
Carrying a four-point penalty from her qualifying period on the first day, Sheikha Latifa came agonisingly close with a time of 32.34 but was edged out of the top three by Sugitani.
The event was won by Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah Sharbatli, ahead of runner-up Satoshi Hirao.
In bowling, entering the day still in with a chance of sealing a medal, the five-man team, Mahmood Al Attar, Shaker Ali, Hussain Al Suwaidi, Naif Oqab and Hareb Al Mansoori fought hard until the end, but despite their efforts, they could only accumulate 5,896 pins.
South Korea comfortably took gold with a total of 6,228 pins, 242 pins ahead of runners-up Malaysia while Hong Kong’s effort of 5,900 was enough to win bronze.
Meanwhile, the skeet shooting team also ended the shooting competition on a disappointing note as they failed to consolidate their start during the qualifying round.
The three-man team, Saif Al Mansoori, Ahmed Mohammed and Saeed Al Dhraif finished in sixth position with a total of 341 points.
China picked up gold with a new Asian record of 366, while Kuwait (353) placed second ahead of South Korea (351).
Al Mansoori was best among the three UAE shooters with a total of 116 while Mohammed and Al Dhraif followed with totals of 115 and 110 at the end of five qualifying rounds.
And on the field, Saber Bayaha’s 50.05m attempt wasn’t enough to secure qualification to the men’s discus final, which was won by Iran’s Ehsan Hadid (65.11m).
India’s Vikas Gowda (62.58m) and Qatar’s Ahmed Mohammed Dheeb (61.25m) clinched silver and bronze medals respectively on the fourth day of the athletics competition.
Today, in sailing, both the men and women’s Optimist categories conclude, as well as the laser standard.
Tomorrow, 10,000m gold medalist Alia Saeed Mohammed will hope to add to the UAE’s tally when she competes in the women’s 5,000m alongside Betlhem Desalegn.