(ATTN: ADDS governor's remark in para 3 : CHANGES photos)
CHUNGJU, South Korea, Aug. 30 (Yonhap) -- About 3,200 martial arts masters and officials from 106 countries gathered in Chungju, a city in the central South Korean province of North Chungcheong, on Friday to kick off the 2019 Chungju World Martial Arts Masterships.
The competition, dubbed the Martial Arts Olympics, will continue through Sept. 6 at Chungju Gymnasium and seven other venues in Chungju, about 150 kilometers southeast of Seoul, under the slogan "Beyond the Times, Bridge the World."
"I hope today's event will serve as an opportunity for the world's martial artists to inherit and develop all the martial arts of the world, transcending religion, race and country, and spread their values to all people, including teenagers, women and the disabled," Lee Si-jong, governor of North Chungcheong Province and head of the organizing committee, said in his address during the opening ceremony.
A total of 2,414 athletes, accompanied by 705 officials, will compete for 271 gold medals in 20 martial arts categories -- belt wrestling, judo, taekwondo, aikido, ju-jitsu, muay thai, sambo, savate, wushu, kabaddi, kurash, pencak silat, Korean hapkido, horseback archery, taekkyeon, martial arts record contest, martial arts show, ssireum, tong-il moo-do and yongmudo. The horseback archery competition will be held at Sokcho Hwarang Horseback-riding Center in Sokcho, Gangwon Province.
Notably, the participating athletes include 369 top-notch martial artists, or 15.2 percent of the total, who are ranked higher than eighth in the world or have won medals in world and continental competitions in the last three years.
The opening ceremony took place at Chungju Stadium beginning at 7 p.m. amid an attendance of about 10,000 citizens, dignitaries, athletes and officials.
Dignitaries in attendance included Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon; Lee Kee-heung, head of the Korean Sports & Olympic Committee and a member of the International Olympic Committee; North Chungcheong Gov. Lee who doubles as chairperson of the 2019 Chungju World Martial Arts Masterships Organizing Committee; Choue Chung-won, president of the World Taekwondo Federation, who serves as president of the 2019 Chungju World Martial Arts Masterships; former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon serving as an honorary president of the 2019 Chungju World Martial Arts Masterships; and Rafael Chiulli, president of the Global Association of International Sports Federation (GAISF).
The opening ceremony began with a choir performance by the Little Angels of Korea and a taekwondo demonstration, and was divided into four parts -- Birth of Martial Arts, New rendezvous, Flare of peace and Eternal promise. Then, a number of K-pop singers, including Apink, N.Flying and Davichi, performed.
The Chungju masterships is the second competition to be held in North Chungcheong Province, after the first competition was hosted by Cheongju, the capital of the province, about 140 km south of Seoul, in August 2016. Sponsors of this year's Chungju masterships include the GAISF, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Korean Sport & Olympic Committee.
The World Martial Arts Masterships Committee, headquartered in Cheongju, aims to develop the martial arts competition into a global festival on par with the Olympics and solidify North Chungcheong Province's brand as a mecca of martial arts.
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