Fans help give athletes second wind

S'poreans, supporters from region play vital role in creating atmosphere

There can be no great Games without a crowd of enthusiastic spectators.

And with supporters from different parts of the region thronging the venues to watch their favourite teams compete, it looks like the athletes at the 28th SEA Games are set to perform for a colourful and lively audience.

Certain to be filling the stands at the 30 venues will naturally be the home crowd.

"The two of us are usually a crowd by ourselves, screaming at the top of our voices," said Kenneth Chan, 54, of himself and wife Foo Yan Nuen, 49.

They are parents of national divers Kimberly and Jonathan.

"(But) for this Games, we have assembled a huge crowd - over a hundred friends and family for each session."

Singapore's small community of divers is backed by a close-knit support network that consists of the athletes' parents.

The eight-strong team this year can look forward to a raucous welcome from the home crowd at the OCBC Aquatic Centre from tomorrow when the competition starts.

Jonathan, 18, laughed off the pressure of having a manifold increase in supporters, relative to his previous experiences at overseas events.

"Even with a bigger crowd, I think my parents are still going to be the loudest," he said.

On performing before the home crowd, Kimberly, 21, said: "(The crowd's cheering) pumps me up before the dive, and I especially enjoy it after a successful execution."

While a strong showing by Singaporean fans is to be expected at the Games, supporters from the neighbouring countries are not far behind in the cheerleading.

Dressed in a traditional Thai costume, complete with glittery gold headgear, Thailand Khamthong, 49, is immediately recognisable from afar.

While some might be puzzled to find him swaying to music and twirling his oil-paper umbrella in the stands, it would help to know that he is in fact an official sports mascot for the kingdom.

He has been a fixture at the Games since the 1995 edition was held in Chiang Mai.

According to the Royal Thai Embassy, the Sports Authority of Thailand has given  financial support to about five sports mascots to attend international-level competitions abroad since 2009.

But while the Thais are the kingpins of the Games, having topped the medal table 12 out of 27 times, Kamthong is keen to stress other aspects, like the spirit of friendship among the fans.

"Win or lose, I am here to cheer on the team. I also want everybody to recognise the friendly spirit of the Thai fans through me," said Kamthong, a seasoned entertainer who goes by the nickname of Dak-Dae back home.

Laos may be one of the smaller contingents at this Games but they are not to be outdone in the support stakes.

"We have students, workers and staff from the Laos embassy at the matches already.

"More Laotians will be flying in for later events," Danousone Inthavong, 24, vice-president of the Association of Laos Students in Singapore, said.

Decked in red and yellow, the Vietnam fans have made their presence felt too.

They have been packing the stadiums at football matches and even have their own vendor selling paraphernalia.

"I came here alone because I know I would be able to make friends with other fans here. Vietnam will win," said businesswoman Jenny Tram, 33, who flew in with her own red-yellow accessories, specially for the Games.

Families of foreign athletes have also been spotted in the stands.

Among them is the Davies family, proudly backing Malaysian footballer Matthew.

"We're here only for football, for No. 29 Matthew Davies," said Australian Jenna Vivian, 18, his girlfriend.

She is here with his sister Chelsea and his parents.

Despite the diversity on show - from who the fans support to the colourful outfits that they sport - one thing is certain.

It is with one loud voice that they cheer on South-east Asia's best.

yzchoo@sph.com.sg

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