IT was a historic moment for Laos when the 25th South East Asian (SEA) Games was officially opened in a colourful ceremony steeped in cultural and historical significance at the new National Stadium in Vientiane last night.
Despite being a founder member when the Games debuted in 1959, Laos, known as “the ancient kingdom of a million elephants”, are hosting the biennial event for the first time.
The Games are also held in celebration of the 450th anniversary of Vientiane as the capital of Laos in 2010.
Tagged as the ‘Generosity, Amity, and Healthy Lifestyle’ Games, the hosts are keen to stress home the point that solidarity and friendship are more important than winning among the South East Asian neighbours.
About 7,000 students were involved in the cultural performances in the opening ceremony, which included dances titled “Welcome SEA Games, Sound of Jungle, Golden Rice Field, Fairness Candlelight, Sin-Xay the hero of an era, Bright Future and Binding Heart to Step Forward”.
The performances celebrated the abundance of cultural and ethnical diversity in the former French colony.
Among the dignitaries who graced the ceremony was Laos President Choummaly Sayasone and he was joined by the Prime Ministers of Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam.
The Malaysian government was represented by Sports Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek.
Ten-time SEA Games gold medal winner Yeoh Ken Nee led the Malaysian contingent out during the contingents’ march past.
The Malaysians looked smart in their gold-coloured baju Melayu with songkok for the men and baju kurung with scarves for the women.
The highlight of the opening ceremony was the lighting of the Games cauldron.
Sixteen past and present famous Laotian athletes took turns carrying the torch around the stadium’s running track.
Wushu exponent Phoxay Aphailatho, who earned Laos a historic silver medal at the 2006 Doha Asian Games, was given the honour to be the final torch bearer.
An archer garbed in ancient Laotian warrior costume and carrying a bow lit his arrow with the flames of the torch held by Phoxay.
The archer then fired the arrow in the direction of the cauldron, igniting the flame in it and sending the 20,000-capacity crowd into a frenzy.
The spectators had more reason to cheer when fireworks lit up the Vientiane night sky just as the cauldron was lit.
Besides Malaysia and Laos, the other nine countries competing in the biennial sports carnival are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor Leste and Vietnam.
A total of 25 sports are contested in Vientiane with 377 gold medals up for grabs.
Malaysia, who finished as the runners-up in the medal tally with a 68-52-96 haul in Korat in 2007, have set a modest target of obtaining between 30 and 35 gold medals in Vientiane.
Malaysia have a contingent of 347 athletes featuring in 21 sports in the Games. THE STAR