Sat, 06 Dec 2003

SEA Games starts with dazzle

Musthofid, The Jakarta Post, Hanoi, Vietnam

Vietnam proudly welcomed athletes from 10 other nations to the 22nd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, its first major international sports event, here on Friday night.

In the rush to determine the winners of 442 gold medals in 32 sports before the closing ceremony on Dec. 13, six had already been awarded before Prime Minister Phan Van Khai formally opened the biennial games. One in billiards was decided soon afterward.

Even as the prime minister addressed some 4,000 athletes at the opening ceremony in the National Stadium, boxing and chess events were underway.

Malaysia and the Philippines took one and two golds, respectively on Friday. Malaysia won the men's archery, while the Filipinos upset the Malaysians in the women's archery and added another gold when Warren Kiamco and Lee Vann Corteza beat Indonesians Muhammad Junarto and Nurdin 9-3 in 9-ball pool doubles.

Host Vietnam's women's gymnastics team also won gold on Friday. Meanwhile, Indonesia and Thailand boasted one gold each before the formal opening.

The waving of red flags at the opening ceremony followed massive, spontaneous celebrations in Hanoi's streets earlier on Thursday night, when motorcyclists circled, sporting national flags, after Vietnam beat Indonesia 1-0 in the soccer and moved within a victory of the semifinals.

Parachutists carried the flags of all 11 competing nations over the darkened stadium on Friday night as a dozen spotlights crisscrossed the breezy sky.

Another flew low over a giant cauldron as the games' flame flared up. For the lighting ceremony, the prime minister had accepted the torch before handing it to a horseman in a traditional costume who completed a lap of the arena.

A standing ovation greeted the tiny delegation from East Timor, who joined the games for the first time.

Vietnam's leadership troika looked on from the VIP section, above which hung a giant portrait of Vietnamese Communist Party founding father Ho Chi Minh -- an ever present figure at every major event in the country.

In line with the communist nation's passion for slogans, the regional mini-Olympics have been given the motto "Solidarity, Cooperation for Peace and Development".

The construction of the US$53 million, 40,000-seat stadium was completed just three months ago on the outskirts of Hanoi.

Emerging from decades of war and isolation, Vietnam won three gold medals at the 1989 SEA Games and had boosted its tally to 33 at the 2001 games.

This time around it has set a goal of 100; on the way with gold in the women's gymnastics, scoring 124.55 points to edge Singapore by 0.125.

Philippines finished the day with the most gold, one in both archery and billiards.

Singapore splashed home its first gold from the Aquatics Center, where it topped the final standings of the water polo event to leave Thailand and the Philippines with silver and bronze medals respectively.

Indonesia, which started well, floundered in the remaining games with two wins, a draw and two losses. It was trounced by Singapore 4-11 on Friday while Thailand scraped to a narrow 9-7 victory over Philippines.

Suwandi, Febi Widhiyanto, Hendri Pramono and Prima Simpati Aji gave the Indonesian tennis team a 3-0 victory over the Philippines in their opening matches. Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia also chalked up a 3-0 win each over their respective opponents.

Still in Ho Chi Minh City, Indonesia's hopes for gold in chess were dashed after Utut Adianto and Irwanto Sadikin failed to march to the semifinals.

While Irwanto's defeat to Vietnamese Dao Thian Hai was expected, it was an unanticipated loss for Indonesia's number one Utut, who tumbled 2-3 to unknown Goh Koonjong Jason of Singapore.