The spectacle of teenage diver Nur Dhabitah flying under the roof of the 80,000-capacity Bukit Jalil stadium to light the 12-metre-high SEA Games cauldron was the climax to a glittering two-hour opening ceremony as fireworks blazed in the Kuala Lumpur sky on Saturday evening.
The ceremony began with a flag parade of the 10 member nations of Asean and Timor-Leste followed by a march past of the contingents and athletes as well as the raising of the SEA Games Federation and KL2017 flags.
Malaysia’s monarch, Yang Di-Pertuan Agung Sultan Muhammad V, and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak were among the top dignitaries attending the spellbinding ceremony showcasing the best of Malaysian art and culture.
The Games were declared officially open by the Malaysian monarch, with national high jumper Nauraj Singh Randhawa taking the traditional oath on behalf of the nearly 5,000 athletes gathered for the 11-day competition over 405 events in 38 disciplines.
The four-part cultural display highlighting Malaysia’s origins and diversity was hosted by popular Malaysia entertainers Yasmin Yusof and Raymond Goh. In keeping with the Games theme of “Rising Together”, song and dance sequences depicted Asean unity.
Hosts Malaysia have fielded the most number of athletes at the Games at 844, while Thailand boast one of the biggest contingents with 816 athletes and 446 officials.
The Cambodian delegation at the march past was led by chinlone athlete Nem Sokphirom, with the contingent’s strikingly bold purple tops standing out.
The Cambodian team of Ly Sovanachandara, Lon Sopheakra, Sim Narith, Phay Visal and Moeng Sochea brought home the country’s first ever equestrian medal Games after tenaciously holding off Singapore to bag bronze in the 80km team endurance competition at the Terengganu International Endurance Park in Lembah Bidong yesterday morning.
The five-team line-up was flagged off at 3am and nearly six hours later Malaysia ended up celebrating gold in both the individual and team events with Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin making Games history as the first sultan not only to compete but also to win a medal.
In the team event, Malaysia, ably led by Mizan Zainal Abidin was followed home by Thailand, with Cambodia third, Singapore fourth and Brunei bringing up the rear. In the individual standings, Mizan was followed home by compatriot Mohd Bulkhari Rozali in close attendance.
It was a remarkable show of courage by the young and relatively inexperienced Cambodian team competing in an endurance event for the first time. While riders from other countries brought their own horses, Cambodia had to lease theirs, making it more challenging for the team to understand and familiarise themselves with their mounts.
“We are so thrilled. We have been working so hard and the boys went through a tough qualifying cycle. This is our competitive debut in endurance [and] we are so proud to bring this medal home,” said Mona Tep, the president of the Cambodian Equestrian Federation.
“We have to acknowledge the great support we have received from the Asean Equestrian Federation and the help the Thai Equestrian Federation has been extending, and also our home base of the Cambodian Country Club for so much of logistical support,” Tep said.
Cambodia’s endurance coach Guillaume Larivain was understandably overwhelmed by the team’s performance and felt that the bronze medal had given the riders an incentive to aim even higher.
Cambodia claimed bronze medals from event 1 and event 4 in chinlone on Thursday.
Cambodian long distance runners Takizaki Kuniaki, more popularly known as Neko Hiroshi, and Ma Viro finished sixth and 11th respectively in the men’s marathon, which was run some hours before the Opening Ceremony on Saturday.
The 40-year-old Rio Olympian Kuniaki, a Japanese national turned Cambodian citizen in 2011, clocked a personal best of 2 hours 42 minutes 22 seconds, but that effort was not enough to get him close to the top finishers. Kuniaki, who had finished 139th in Brazil at 2:45:55, however, considerably improved upon that time in Kuala Lumpur.
Singapore’s Guillaume Soh won the event in 2:29:27, ahead of Agus Prayogo of Indonesia in 2:31:20, with Muhaizar of Malaysia checking in third at 2:31.52.
It was an uphill struggle for Ma Viro as he came home 11th out of a field of 15 runners, out of which three did not finish. Viro, who had finished third earlier this month in the Angkor Empire Half Marathon in Siem Reap, clocked in at 3:18.
In the men’s rugby 7s, Cambodia beat Indonesia 17-12 in the fifth-sixth place playoff at the Petaling Jaya Stadium yesterday morning.