SINGAPORE: The 29th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games wrapped up on Wednesday (Aug 30) after more than two weeks of competition. Apart from the odd traffic accident, crowd trouble, cheating allegations and flag misprints, you could say – hosts Malaysia certainly did – the Games were a success.
Like any multi-event regional competition, there were the usual sporting highs and lows, the unexpected upsets and near misses.
A round-up of memorable moments can be a tricky exercise after we’ve had our fill from 404 events across 38 sports and all the off-field shenanigans and histrionics.
From Joseph Schooling’s record-breaking feats in the pool, to Vietnam’s Le Tu Chinh dazzling the Bukit Jalil track and Malaysian fans sportingly cheering on Timor-Leste’s athletes, there were many highlights at these games.
Heck, there was even the weird spectacle of winter sports on offer.
And who can forget the spectacular closing and opening ceremonies which showcased Malaysia’s rich heritage and culture? Those were pretty special, too.
Here are five equally noteworthy moments.
GOLD AGAIN, 28 YEARS LATER
Golf. It’s a sport in which Southeast Asians are relatively good at.
Thai, Filipino, Malaysian and even Myanmar golfers regularly do well on the Asian Tour. We love our golf here in Singapore, too, and over the years, we’ve had our moments on the putting green.
Mardan Mamat, who has five Asian Tour titles to his name, famously became the first Singaporean to win a European Tour event when he won the Singapore Masters in 2006.
At the SEA Games, Samson Gimson won Singapore’s first-ever golf gold in 1989 when he took the individual title at the Saujana Golf and Country Club.
That was the last time anyone from Singapore won gold on the golf course at the SEA Games – until Gregory Foo, Marc Ong, Joshua Shou and Joshua Ho turned up at The Mines Resort & Golf Club on Aug 26 for the team event.
The quartet fended off a tough challenge from the more-fancied Thais to win in a sudden-death play-off.
Ong, who lost the individual title by a single stroke, held off his opponent to win on the third hole of their 3-hole play-off.
The photos above capture what the win meant to the Singapore golfers, who collapsed in a weeping heap in each other's arms.
BIRTH OF SOUTHEAST ASIA’S BOLT
There is a void in athletics for the next sprint king-cum-showman after Usain Bolt's recent departure. And in Khairul Hafiz Jantan we may - just may - have an heir apparent of sorts.
The Malaysian teenager delivered a stunning performance to win gold in the century sprint at the SEA Games. But that wasn't the biggest deal – it was how he did it that made all the headlines.
The 19-year-old started slightly slower than his rivals off the blocks but strode back into contention just 20 metres in, levelling himself with Philippines’ Eric Cray.
He then surged ahead, leaving all in his wake and just before he reached the finishing line, held his hands aloft in triumph.
It was like Bolt all over again, the victory reminiscent of the Jamaican’s world record run at the 2008 Beijing Olympics 100m final.
Like Bolt, Khairul had the audacity to celebrate even before the race ended. But unlike Bolt, Khairul stumbled after he crossed the line, falling on his knees.
Still, the home favourite was quickly back on his feet again, wrapped in the Malaysian flag.
He furiously zig-zagged around the Bukit Jalil stadium track in his lap of honour, leaving bumbling photographers huffing and puffing in his wake this time.
Southeast Asia’s fastest man basked in all the glory, and rightfully so. His time of 10.38s may be a long way off Bolt’s record mark but Khairul could well be a name to watch in upcoming global meets.
TEARS OF JOY AFTER RUGBY SEVENS GOLD
In any sport, the Causeway derby is always a highly charged, absorbing affair. And the rugby sevens final between Malaysia and Singapore proved no different.
Both teams played out a thrilling spectacle worthy of the occasion in front of a capacity crowd at the MBPJ Stadium, which included Prime Minister Najib Razak
Malaysia’s first-minute try was cancelled out by Singapore, who took the lead before relinquishing it at half-time. The hosts then stepped up a couple of gears in the second half to eventually win 22-7 and take their first ever SEA Games rugby gold medal.
Cue jubilant scenes from the partisan crowd. Amid the celebrations, Malaysia’s Muhammad Azwan Zuwairi Mat Zizi ran from the field to embrace his sobbing parents in the stands.
It was a truly poignant moment for all to behold: A tough-as-nails rugby player lovingly paying his respects to his elderly parents amid the euphoria of victory.
As armchair critics, we can sometimes be dismissive of the sporting standards found at the SEA Games. But this was a timely and heartwarming reminder of the hard work, dedication and sacrifice both parents and children go through to achieve sporting success.
LOVE IS IN THE AIR FOR NILA
Who can forget Nila from the 2015 SEA Games – the over-zealous, eager-beaverish Team Singapore mascot whose job was to energise dozy spectators into flag-waving, cheering fans.
After two years of hibernation, the red-maned fella was back at it again, this time strutting his stuff in Kuala Lumpur. But at this SEA Games, Nila found himself an admirer – in the form of the hosts’s mascot, Rimau the tiger.
And here is Rimau, gracefully skating across the ice rink to impress its future mate:
While the SEA Games arena has typically been a tense ground for Malaysia and Singapore, the two put aside all causeway rivalry as they were caught showing some PDA at the National Aquatic Centre in Bukit Jalil.
Like a romantic scene out of The Lion King, the pair went at it in full view of cameramen and fans, with not a care in the world. You could almost hear Elton John’s Can You Feel The Love Tonight wafting in the background.
Malaysia’s Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who despite sleepless nights as the organiser-in-chief of the 2017 SEA Games, still found time to tweet about the unlikely pair.
Forget fancy dinners and ministerial meets, mascot diplomacy could be the way to go.
THE PUNCH OF THE GAMES
Doesn’t matter how many golds you win at the SEA Games, in football-mad Southeast Asia only one counts. Or so they say.
Traditionally, the football final was always the last event of the Games. But that has changed in recent times, especially after football switched to being an under-23 competition in 2001.
Still, the final is always a big draw. And 80,000 Malaysians packed the Shah Alam Stadium in the hope of seeing the Harimau Muda lift the coveted title they last won in 2011 once more.
Alas, it was not to be.
In the driving rain against a strong, but not vintage, Thai side the hosts succumbed by a single goal after the goalkeeper Haziq Nadzli misjudged a corner and wildly punched the ball into his own net.
You could hear 80,000 fans collectively groaning. Maybe like the rest of us, he was on a Mayweather-McGregor comedown.
Nonetheless, this was the sucker punch heard around the region.