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A young spectator cheers for the opening ceremony of the 13th Chinese National Winter Games in Urumqi, capital of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Jan 20, 2016. [Photo/Xinhua]

URUMQI -

Vice Premier Liu Yandong declared open the 13th National Winter Games of China at the Xinjiang Ice Sports Center here on Wednesday.

For the first time since the winter sports gala was introduced in 1959 the games have been held outside the northeastern provinces of Heilongjiang and Jilin, where the frigid climate means winter sports have traditionally enjoyed huge popularity.

Awarding Xinjiang the right to host the quadrennial sporting gala echoed the country's ambition to encourage 300 million people in China to participate in winter sports while preparing for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

The 13th National Winter Games, which will run through Jan 30, will see 1,388 athletes from 52 provincial and municipal delegations compete for 97 gold medals in 11 disciplines.

A new, world-class ice sports center in a southwestern suburb of Urumqi will be the venue for all the ice-related action, including speed and figure skating, curling and ice hockey, while snow-based events will be staged at two existing resorts on the outskirts of the city that has been fully refurbished for the event.

A trimmed operational budget has resulted in a saving of 340 million yuan (about 52 million US dollars) from the initial cost projection, according to Li Guangming, deputy secretary-general of the organizing committee.

Measures to cut expenditure included staging curling events at an ancillary rink at the figure skating venue rather than building a new center and moving the ski jumping events to the Yabuli Ski resort in Heilongjiang.

Star athletes including two-time Olympic champion Zhou Yang and China's first Olympic gold medalist in speed skating Zhang Hong are expected to dominate the spotlight over the next 10 days.

The first gold medal of these National Winter Games was won by Sun Jianping in men's 90m ski jump on Jan 10.

The closing ceremony will be held at the Silk Road Ski Resort on Jan 30.

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