The SEA Games in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi came to a noisy and colourful close on Monday after more than two weeks of competition in everything from athletics to football and eSports.
The closing ceremony, held in an indoor sports complex and a joyful mix of dancing, music, and pageantry, brought the curtain down on a Games which started six months late because of COVID.
Nearly 5,000 athletes from 11 countries fought for Southeast Asian pride, with hosts Vietnam easily topping the medals table with 205 golds, followed by Thailand and Indonesia in distant second and third.
The closing gala, at a venue with a capacity of about 3,000, was markedly smaller than the opening ceremony when tens of thousands crammed into the My Dinh stadium.
But it did not disappoint as men in white military garb came out onto a stage holding the flags of the 11 nations. Heavy rain fell outside.
Hailing the biennial competition a success, Vietnam Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh declared the Games closed and the mantle was handed over to Cambodia, which will stage the 32nd edition about a year from now.
“The torch of peace and development in Southeast Asia will continue to shine,” he said.
Athletes from the countries did not parade before the audience during the ceremony.
When the Games finally got under way earlier this month, Singapore emerged again as SEA swim kings with 21 golds in the pool.
Malaysia swept all eight golds in the diving, in what was a generally disappointing Games for the country, coming a lowly sixth in the medals table with 39 gold.
East Timor won three silvers and two bronze to prop up the table.
Stars of the future were made and some bolstered their already global reputation.
Thailand’s 16-year-old Puripol Boonson shattered the 200m Games record and also clinched the 100m gold as he became the region’s new sprint king on the track.
Reigning Olympic champions Panipak Wongpattanakit from Thailand defended her taekwondo crown, as did Filipino Hidilyn Diaz in women’s weightlifting.
A national hero in the Philippines, Diaz is already eyeing up the Paris 2024 Olympics.
But Singapore’s former Olympic swimming champion Joseph Schooling hinted in Hanoi that his career is almost at an end age 26, but not before adding two more SEA Games golds to make it 29 for him overall.
Controversially, he was denied gold in freestyle relay when Singapore’s sprint team was disqualified.
There was disappointment too for the Philippines’ bodybuilders, who were barred from competing over failing to fulfill anti-doping rules, forcing them to leave Hanoi without even taking to the stage.
Organisers nominated Vietnam’s Nguyen Huy Hoang (swimming) and Nguyen Thi Oanh (athletics), Singapore’s Quah Jing Wen (swimming), and Thailand’s Joshua Robert Atkinson (athletics) as the Games’ top competitors.