Turkmenistan has begun a long countdown to the fifth Asian Indoor and Martian Arts Games to be hosted by Ashgabat with the launching of a 500-day nationwide horse race.
The race began on May 5 and is scheduled to end on the eve of the opening ceremony for the 2017 Asian games on September 17, state media reported.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov watched as 17 horses ridden by professional jockeys set off on one of five consecutive 100-day-long races taking place in each of the country's five regions.
Berdymukhammedov -- an authoritarian who exercises control over every aspect of society in Turkmenistan -- has been promoting sport and healthy lifestyles in the country of some 5 million in a giant state propaganda effort.
Turkmenistan is known for the personality cults surrounding its leaders -- both Berdymukhammedov and his eccentric predecessor, the late Saparmurat Niyazov.