THE SEA Games drift away from Olympic sports will continue at the next event in 2009, with organisers set to jettison many such disciplines as part of a severe cutback in the breadth of competition.
Among the Olympic sports present at the current Games that will be absent from the Laos capital Vientiane in December 2009 are cycling, basketball, gymnastics, hockey, rowing and weightlifting.
Yet the event will retain the likes of tenpin bowling, petanque, billiards, dragon boat racing, sepaktakraw, the more obscure martial arts of wushu, Muay Thai and pencak silat, and will resume the sport of juggling a shuttlecock with feet.
There will be 25 disciplines compared to the 43 in Korat.
The cutback is partly due to being in a landlocked country there will be no sailing, windsurfing or triathlon and partly due to lack of facilities in Vientiane.
There had also been a determination to reduce the breadth of the SEA Games, with many events in the current Games having small fields and weak competition.
The 24th SEA Games ended yesterday, with Thailand predictably topping the table with 183 gold medals.
It was the fourth straight Games where the host nation had finished atop the standings, raising further questions about the judging.
The lingering suspicion about home advantage erupted here in boxing, where the Philippines forfeited six mens gold medal bouts in a protest at judging in the womens finals where its boxers lost out to Thai opponents in all five bouts that were decided on points.
The Philippines protest spared its fighters having to compete with a world-class array of Thai boxers, and would have had more weight if the Philippines had voiced similar concerns when it was seen to benefit from the judging at the Manila event in 2005.
The protest robbed the Games of a rare display of world-competitive athletes in gold medal competition. The likes of Manus Boonjamnong and his brother Non, Amnat Ruenroeng, Somjit Jongjohor, Pichai Sayota and Suriya Prasathinphimai will all be genuine gold threats at the Olympics in Beijing in 2008.
Aside from boxing, the only other Olympic gold prospects on display were in badminton and shooting, with the latter having been held before the Games started to avoid a clash with an Asian championship.
In badminton, Indonesia swept all seven gold medals on offer, led by reigning Olympic champion Taufik Hidayat in mens singles. However Indonesia was not put fully to the test, as Malaysias male and female aces sat out the Games and both nations will be hard pressed to match the powerhouse of China in Beijing.
The most popular win in Korat was that of the Thai mens Under-23 football team, which won an eighth straight SEA Games gold by defeating Myanmar 2-0 in the final before a sell-out crowd. However Thailand had already failed to qualify for Beijing.
In the big ticket events of athletics and swimming, there were multiple gold-winning stars.
At the track, Indonesias Suryo Agung Wibowo won the 100m and 200m double for men, as did Vietnams Vu Thi Huong for women. Similarly, the 5,000m and 10,000m was won by Thailands Boonthung Srisung for men and Indonesias Triyaningsih in the womens. Vietnam monopolised the 800m and 1,500m events, with Nguyen Dinh Cuong doing the mens double and Hang Truong Thanh the womens.
Arguably the most meritorious performance was by Thailands Beijing-bound Wassana Winatho, who not only won the heptathlon but also the womens 400m hurdle, and took gold in the 4x400m relay.
At the pool, Thailands Natthanan Jankrajang won four golds in womens events, as did Singapores Chinese import Tao Li.
There were a slew of SEA Games records in both athletics and swimming, but South-east Asian athletes remain some way off world competitive times in those disciplines. AP