Friday, December 07, 2007
Matheos Viktor Messakh, The Jakarta Post, Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand
The Southeast Asian Games were officially opened with what attendees described as a fabulous ceremony staged at the newly built US$65 million His Majesty the King's 80th Birthday Anniversary Stadium in Thailand on Thursday.
With many competitions already underway, the host nation is leading the medal count and aims take out the medal count.
Some 20,000 spectators along with about 7,000 athletes, coaches and officials enjoyed the opening ceremony, which was attended by Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.
The Prince was representing King Bhumibol Adulyadej who has just celebrated his 80th birthday.
A two-hour performance called "The journey of the SEA Games to Korat" was colored with fireworks.
Indonesia's cyclist Sugiyanto Setiawan, who won the gold medal in the 2005 SEA Games, carried the Indonesian flag to lead the 542-strong contingent during the parade.
But all eyes were on the 982-strong Thailand squad led by badminton athlete and Games competitor Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana.
Spectators gave a standing ovation when their local heroes entered the stadium.
All attendants were asked to wear a shade of pink to celebrate the King's good health after he was hospitalized in August.
Well-known Thai athlete Udomporn Polsak -- the 2004 Olympic gold winner in weightlifting -- carried the Games torch to the cauldron.
As a sign of the organizers' commitment to an environmentally friendly Games, they displayed a huge banner with "Save the World" during the ceremony.
A total of 11 countries are fighting to win the majority of the 475 gold medals on offer, via 45 sports and over 10 days.
Thailand is targeted to win 150 gold medals to reclaim its top spot, which it failed to win in the previous three Games.
Malaysia took the crown in 2001, followed by host Vietnam in 2003 and the Philippines two years ago.
Indonesia has been involved in the games since 1977 and although it once dominated the competition, it has set a modest target of 65 gold medals in a bid to climb from fifth to fourth place.
Security measures have been tightened following the bombing in the province of Narathiwat on Tuesday.
A reported 7,500 uniformed and plain clothes security officers were deployed to secure athletes and officials during the ceremony and during the competition.