Sunday, December 16, 2007
Matheos Viktor Messakh, The Jakarta Post, Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand
Fireworks lit up the night sky as nearly 9,000 performers from northeastern Thailand took part in the colorful closing ceremony of the 24th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games at His Majesty the King's 80th Birthday Anniversary Stadium on Saturday.
The ceremony kicked off at 6 p.m with "A message from the heart" performance after the arrival of Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont.
"I am pleased to preside over the closing ceremony. Sports events not only strengthen relations between nations but also provide opportunities for athletes to develop their skills," Chulanont said.
Governor of Nakhon Ratchasima province, Sutee Markboon, who presided over the closing ceremony, said in his speech, "The 24th SEA Games have now ended but hopefully the opening and closing ceremonies will leave you with a lasting impression and fond memories of pleasure, friendship and spirit,"
"We want this closing ceremony to be a tribute to our country and a source of pride for Korat (the familiar name for Nakhon Ratchasima) residents as representatives of all Thai people."
The Games coincided with the celebration of King Bhumibol Adulyadej's 80th birthday, which fell on Dec. 5.
Thailand National Olympic Committee chairman Yuthasak Sasiprapa handed over the SEA Games flag to Laotian Deputy Prime Minister Somsawat Lengsavad during the ceremony. Laos will host the 2009 Games.
Filipino swimmer Miguel Molina and Thailand's Natthanan Jungkajang were named the most successful athletes of the games, with both winning four gold medals in the swimming pool. They were each presented with cash prizes of 330,000 baht (about US$10,000) and a trophy by the prime minister.
Chulanont was awarded the International Olympic Committee Order by the IOC for his role as the SEA Games organizing committee chairman.
Host Thailand topped the medal standings with 182 gold, 123 silver and 102 bronze medals, while Indonesia came fourth with 56 gold, 63 silver and 83 bronze medals. Timor Leste was the only country that will go home entirely empty-handed.
The Games, however, were marred with complaints of biased judging, ranging from minor grumbles to official boycotts. Thailand Tourism and Sports Minister Suvit Yodmani said the Games were fair and Thailand's gold medals were well-deserved.
"It's down to the morale of our athletes," Suvit told Reuters.
"They have the crowd behind them, they are in high spirits. They also have the support of the government and have worked hard on sports psychology and mental preparation. I believe this will show at the Olympics too."
The ceremony featured mass dance performances and a fireworks display.
The 25th Games will be referred to as the "Vientiane Games" as they will take place in the Laotian capital in 2009. Lack of facilities has forced the host to reduce the number of disciplines from 43 this year to 25, with cycling, basketball, gymnastics, hockey, rowing and weight lifting being given the chop.
Associated Press reported that events like tenpin bowling, petanque, billiards, traditional boat racing, sepak takraw, wushu, muay Thai and pencak silat are likely to be retained.