SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The 28th Southeast Asian Games closed on a sombre note at Singapore's new national Stadium on Tuesday, drawing the curtain on the region's biggest multi-sports event.
Singaporean president Tony Tan officially declared the Games over after Tan Chuan-Jin, the president of the SEA Games Federation, delivered an emotional closing speech, paying tribute to the victims of the Mount Kinabalu earthquake in nearby Borneo.
Eighteen people, including a teacher and eight Singaporean primary school children died in the quake, which occurred on June 5, the same day as the Opening Ceremony for the SEA Games.
The deaths cast a long shadow over the Games. Singapore and Malaysia both observed an official day of mourning with flags flown at half-mast and a minute's silence observed at all the SEA Games venues.
Competitors from countries across the region took time out to visit the school where the young casualties studied and helped organise an international fundraising campaign.
In his closing speech, Tan Chuan-Jin read the last blog entry that the victims had posted after climbing the mountain, saying it served as a reminder of the enduring spirit of friendship between Southeast Asian countries.
"Though it was an exhausting hike to Pendant Hut, step by step, inch by inch, we all made it up! It wasn't easy but they all succeeded getting up there. How did they make it up? The answer? Each other. They encouraged each other."
In keeping with tradition, the SEA Games cauldron was then extinguished and the SEA Games flag was lowered and handed over to Malaysia, who will host the next edition in 2017.
About 50,000 spectators filed into the stadium for the two-hour ceremony that celebrated the performances of more than 4,000 athletes from the 11 competing nations and ended in an explosion of fireworks and laser beams.
Held every two years since 1959, the SEA Games feature a rich mixture of sports, many that are on the Olympic programme but also a few that keep faith with the region's unique sporting interests, including exotic pencak silat, sepak takraw and dragon boat racing.
TEEN POOL TALENTS
Thailand, the region's sporting powerhouse, finished at the top of the medals table for the fourth time in the last five SEA Games, winning 95 golds.
The host-nation Singapore finished second with 84 golds, followed by Vietnam (73), Malaysia (62), Indonesia (47), Philippines (29), Myanmar (12) and Cambodia (1). Laos, Brunei and East Timor also won medals but none of the 402 golds that were handed out.
Singapore won the first gold medal on June 2, three days before the Opening Ceremony, and also the last, just hours before the Closing Ceremony, in the men's water polo, an event Singapore have won 26 times in a row.
The city-state also produced the two most prolific individual winners of the Games, both teenage swimmers with the same ambition of putting their tiny homeland on the world sporting stage.
Joseph Schooling, who turned 20 on Tuesday, won gold medals in all nine events he entered while his 18-year-old team mate Quah Zheng Wen won a total of 12 medals, including seven gold.
The Games also served as a vivid demonstration of Singapore's spectacular transformation from a sleepy British colonial outpost to a global financial powerhouse that is now home to many of the world's mega-rich.
Most of the events were held at Singapore's brand new $1 billion SportsHub, which was built as part of the city's bid to attract more major sporting events.
Singapore already hosts a Formula One race, the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) finals and a round of swimming world cup and was recently named as one of two Asian cities that will host rounds of the world rugby sevens series.
Singapore has been identified as a possible future host of the Asian Games or Commonwealth Games but local officials said they were unlikely to pursue more multi-sports events despite the success of the SEA Games.
"I think what we're looking at is single major international events like the WTA and ways in which we can leverage off that kind of a tournament over the next four years to catalyze the sport in the country," Bob Gambardella, head of the Singapore Sports Institute, told a news conference.
"So we see those kind of events coming fast and they will help us build out that sport ecosystem itself."
(Reporting by Julian Linden; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)