SEA Games: Team Singapore raring to go as athletes gather in KL

Singapore's Bryan Ong (right) making his move against (from left) Zaenal Arifin and Yusuf Budiman of Indonesia during their men's water polo match yesterday. Singapore, coming off a record 84-gold haul as hosts at the 2015 Games to finish second behi
Singapore's Bryan Ong (right) making his move against (from left) Zaenal Arifin and Yusuf Budiman of Indonesia during their men's water polo match yesterday. Singapore, coming off a record 84-gold haul as hosts at the 2015 Games to finish second behind Thailand, will harbour lofty goals.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Tickets for several SEA Games events sold out; 85,000 expected for opening ceremony

Asean's finest athletes have gathered in Kuala Lumpur and its neighbouring states to see who among them are the strongest, fittest and fastest.

In a testament to South-east Asia's growing presence on the global sporting stage, there will be a host of bona fide stars in town over the next 12 days to compete at the 29th SEA Games.

Singapore's Olympic champion Joseph Schooling was among the bulk of the country's 568-strong contingent that flew in from Changi Airport yesterday, after an emotional send-off by family and friends.

Even in the absence of badminton great Lee Chong Wei, who is at the World Championships in Scotland, host Malaysia boasts newly crowned world champions in diving (Cheong Jun Hoong) and cycling (Azizulhasni Awang).

Hoang Xuan Vinh, Vietnam's 10m air pistol Olympic champion, and Eko Yuli Irawan, Indonesia's multi-Olympic medallist in weightlifting, are also competing in refurbished sports venues across the Malaysian capital.

Such headliners are one reason Malaysia's Ministry of Tourism and Culture announced that it expects a 50 per cent increase in Asean tourist arrivals this month, from 1.65 million visitors the same time last year.

Singaporeans are making the trip north. Sheila Hassan, who was in Selayang Stadium to watch Singapore's Under-22 football team beat Laos 2-0 yesterday, said: "We're only on day one and I'm really looking forward to the rest of the trip."

Tickets for several events in netball, basketball, silat, swimming, futsal and track cycling are sold out and 85,000 spectators are expected for tonight's opening ceremony at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium.

Security has been stepped up. Close to 12,000 police personnel from various units - including 69 commandos and the Special Action Force - will be deployed until the end of the Games on Aug 30, a day before Malaysia celebrates Merdeka Day.

This Games, with a budget of RM450 million (S$143 million), is the sixth edition (including the SEAP Games) held in Malaysia and equals Thailand's record.

Both countries are expected to be in the challenge for the title of overall champions, with Malaysia, widely expected to hold its general election in the coming months, targeting 111 golds. Six of the last 10 Games hosts have topped the table.

There are a total of 405 golds on offer from 38 sports, with the Games programme including winter sports (ice hockey, figure skating and short-track speed skating) and cricket for the first time.

Malaysia last topped the standings in 2001 as hosts. They finished fourth two years ago with 62 golds.

Singapore, coming off a record 84-gold haul as hosts at the 2015 Games to finish second behind perennial champions Thailand, will harbour lofty goals.

With two golds, two silvers and three bronzes so far from its synchronised and open-water swimmers as well as archers, Singapore was second in the standings behind Malaysia (7-4-3) as of last night.

Equalling the 2015 tally is unlikely, but there is an unspoken confidence within the Singapore camp that a half-century of gold medals - shattering the previous best away showing of 43 titles at the 2007 Korat Games in Thailand - is an achievable target.

And why not, when the improbable has been achieved thanks to Schooling's historic victory at last year's Rio Olympic Games.

The 22-year-old, who won a bronze at last month's swimming World Championships and will race in six events in KL, said: "I feel good and confident in our ability as a team to do well."

This will be the first Games for more than half of Singapore's contingent, but deputy chef de mission Lee Wung Yew said: "They are better prepared and the officials have done a really good job in getting them ready for this Games."

• Additional reporting by Alvin Chia, Nicole Chia & Chua Zikai

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2017, with the headline 'S'pore team raring to go as athletes gather in KL'. Print Edition | Subscribe