Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev has officially declared open the Almaty 2017 Winter Universiade here tonight.
Nazarbayev marked the start of the 28th edition of the biennial event at the end of a Ceremony that demonstrated the culture of the host nation.
Throughout the theatrical show, spectators were shown the most significant stages of Kazakhstan’s development, as well as its cultural richness, diversity of traditions and crafts, and its younger generation’s ambition for growth and development.
More than 1,500 performers participated in the Ceremony, including opera and pop singers, circus gymnasts, student figure skaters, dance teams and Almaty theatre actors.
The central stage of the venue, which can hold over 12,000 spectators, was decorated as a leaf symbolising life, love and wisdom.
At the beginning of proceedings, Kazakhstan’s flag was hoisted into position by National Guard officers to the backdrop of a children’s choir singing the country’s national anthem.
This was followed by the traditional Parade of Nations in which a record-breaking 57 countries took part.
Nazarbayev and International University Sports Federation (FISU) President Oleg Matytsin both addressed the crowd before a video message from International Olympic Committee (IOC) head Thomas Bach was played.
"This is the biggest sporting event in the history of Kazakhstan," Matytsin said in his speech.
"The people of Kazakhstan have made incredible efforts to make the 28th Winter Universiade a success in the beautiful city of Almaty.
"The Organising Committee has done a tremendous job and today a record number of nations and athletes have joined us in this Arena.
"Sport is one of the greatest inventions of human kind and we deserve to have it clean and fair.
"Athletes, I wish you the best of luck for the upcoming competition."
The fair play oath on behalf of athletes was taken by Kazakh figure skater Ayza Imanbek, while ski sport judge Askar Valiyev took the officials' oath.
The FISU flag was brought out by half-a-dozen Kazakh athletes - biathlete Vasily Podkorytov, boxer Daniyar Eleusinov, chess player Dinara Sadvakasova, judoka Marian Urdabayeva, speed skater Ekaterina Aydova and wrestler Adilet Davlumbayev - before being lofted into the air.
As per tradition, the FISU anthem, entitled Gaudeamus, was then played.
Sixteen torchbearers representing various regions and cities gathered in the venue to unite their flames into the one that was used to light the Cauldron.
Among the main Torchbearers were prominent Kazakh athletes such as figure skater Elizabet Tursynbayeva, weightlifter Zhazira Zhapparkul, wrestler Yekaterina Larionova and a number of boxers, including Adilbek Niyazymbetov, Ivan Dychko, Dina Zholaman and Zhanibek Alimkhanuly.
The only sport to take place today was a women's ice hockey Group B match between Russia and the United States, with the former coming out 7-1 victors at the Baluan Sholak Arena.
Braces for Anna Shokhina and Fanuza Kadirova put Russia into a 4-0 lead, and although the US pulled one back through Kathleen Ash, further goals from Olga Sosina, Alexandra Vafina and Evgenia Dyupina put the match to bed.
Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko has been speaking about the Games, saying the upcoming competitions offer opportunities for university athletes to prove themselves.
"We are paying special attention to students’ sports," he told TASS.
"The Universiade features leaders of students’ sports, the closest reserve of the national team, thus, like always, our team unites good athletes, many of whom are promising, serious athletes.
"Our team has always been among leaders of students’ sports, and thus, of course, in Almaty our team will be competing for the highest positions."