As Thailand push to zealously safeguard their status as the region’s leading medal winners and Cambodia drive to overcome the disappointment of the last edition, the hosts of the 29th SEA Games, gearing up for a colourful opening in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday, are targeting the same number of gold medals Malaysia won to top the tally in 2001 when they last staged the biennial event.
Though Malaysia were fourth in the gold tally behind Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam in the previous edition, the country is hoping to replicate its astounding success 16 years ago as hosts when they exceeded all expectations to grab 111 golds to emerge as the overall winners for the first and so far only time.
Malaysia’s Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin claimed the target as realistic, one that had been set after analysing the performance of athletes and holding discussions with each sports association.
According to Malaysian sports analysts, to boost the gold yield from the 62 in Singapore to as high as 111 in just two years could be a steep challenge, though the country’s prime sports administrators are relying on successes in athletics, aquatics, bowling, cycling, gymnastics, karate, lawn bowls, sailing, pencak silat, waterskiing and squash to take them to that magic number.
There are 405 gold medals on offer from 38 disciplines this time, compared to the 391 that were claimed in 32 events back in 2001.
Singapore, to borrow from the event’s slogan in 2015, truly “Celebrated the Extraordinary” by plucking 84 gold medals, just 11 shy of table-toppers Thailand two years ago. With that grand show at home in mind, the city-state will be aiming to deliver the country’s best ever overseas showing. Singapore has selected the biggest away contingent of 569 athletes to compete in 35 of the 38 events.
Indonesia chasing glory days
While Rio Olympics sensation Joseph Schooling will lead Singapore’s gold-medal charge in swimming, the discipline that netted them 23 in 2015, sailing and table tennis players could play a significant role in boosting the bullion count.
Another country falling back on historic achievements for inspiration this time round is the Philippines.
Having been overshadowed in the gold count by Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia last time, the Filipinos have raised their expectations, angling for 50 golds compared to the 29 they picked up in Singapore.
In the last five editions, the Philippines have not been able to get anywhere near their record haul of 113 when they hosted the 2005 Games in Manila.
For a country dealt a sporting blow when President Duterte announced its withdrawal from the hosting rights for the next edition in 2019, reaching the target of the 50 golds they have set out for would take them close to their best ever over-seas haul of 57 in Singapore in 1993.
In the all-time gold-medal race, Indonesia are just one short of Thailand’s 1,714, but the country has struggled over the past few cycles to get back to its glory days. Though the Indonesians have so far avoided making projections, they will be keen to figure high up in the medal honours.
Vietnam is another nation gradually building on its strengths, though it usually is among the region’s best.
If Cambodia went wild in celebrations over its haul of fame in Myanmar in 2013, the next edition was one of the most disappointing of the past two decades. With just one gold to show from Singapore, and that a team effort in sepak takraw, Cambodia will be banking on some notable improvements made by some of the Kingdom’s athletes over the past two years for a healthier return this time.
The country’s sports administrators, led by National Olympic Committee of Cambodia Secretary-General Vath Chamroeun, have come up with several developmental programmes to ensure that the gold-medal yield in Malaysia will be between six and eight.
Kenny out to improve on bronze
With Asian Games gold-medallist and Rio Olympics qualifier Sorn Seavmey leading the gold hunt in taekwondo, the Kingdom will be looking to its petanque players to deliver a clutch of medals.
The recent successes of the wushu team have raised hopes of more medals, while the introduction of khun Khmer, traditional Cambodian kickboxing, should work to the Kingdom’s advantage. International boxing could also bring more cheer to Cambodia, whose potential for medals is the brightest in sepaktakraw.
While the country’s footballers have a tough task on hand in a “group of death” alongside such strong teams as Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam, the basketball team may be on the lookout for a breakthrough this time. The team is mostly made up of Cambodian-American players who will be hopeful of a better performance than the close fifth place they managed in Singapore.
The country’s top male player Bun Kenny is shaping up well to retain his singles bronze medal in tennis following his impressive performance last month in the Kuala Lumpur Open, where he lost the final to Indonesia’s David Sustanto, who stopped him in the Singapore Sea Games semifinals in 2015.