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First-ever European Games kick off in Baku

The multi-sport event in Azerbaijan could be a preview of the Rio Olympics next summer.

Synchonized Swimming main European GamesSynchonized Swimming main European GamesIsraeli synchronized swimmers Aviv-Lea Bublil and Gal Litman compete in the 1st European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan. (Photo: Jamie Squire / Getty Images)

Nothing can top the excitement and pageantry of the Olympics – the march of athletes, the national pride, the exhilaration of watching amazing competition on the world's biggest stage.

The European Olympic Committees wanted to capture that feeling before each Olympics, so they created the European Games. The first Games, taking place in Baku, Azerbaijan, unofficially kicked off Thursday. The opening ceremony is set for today, and will be live-streamed on YouTube. Lady Gaga will perform at the opening ceremony.

More than 5,000 athletes from 51 nations are in Baku to participate in 18 sports, including archery and table tennis. There is also a 3-on-3 basketball tournament and beach soccer for those who want to watch something different.

Many countries will use the Baku games as an Olympic trial as some athletes are competing to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Here are some images from Thursday's events.


Synchronized Swimming

The sport makes for great photography. Underwater cameras capture not only the swimmers, but their reflections, giving the illusion that Israeli swimmers Aviv-Lea Bublil and Gal Litman are a team of four. Indeed, they are just two of the 140 athletes from Israel, the largest delegation from the country to go to an international sporting event.

Synchonized swimming European GamesIsraeli synchronized swimmers Aviv-Lea Bublil and Gal Litman compete in the 1st European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan. (Photo: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

Synchronized swimming is always fun to watch because of the smiles on the swimmers' faces, along with the tandem movements they need to make with precise timing. Below is an example, from French sisters Charlotte and Laura Tremble:

Synchronized swimming European GamesCharlotte and Laura Tremble of France compete in synchronized swimming at the 1st European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan. (Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)


Archery

128 archers (64 men and 64 women) prepare for competition, which begins Tuesday with five separate events. Athletes are not only competing for European Games medals but also to earn qualifying points for the 2016 Olympics.

Archery European GamesArchery competitors in the 1st European Games practice at a venue in Baku, Azerbaijan. (Photo: Robert Prezioso/Getty Images)


Water Polo

Women's water polo also started Thursday. It's amazing how these athletes can throw accurately while having to float and swim for minutes on end. It also provides photographers a chance to snap some exciting stop-action water shots.

Water polo European GamesNetherlands goalie Sarah Buis blocks a shot during a preliminary water polo match against Israel in the 1st European Games. (Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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