Flame on for digital age

Nation’s best: Malaysian athletes singing the Negaraku during the flag-raising ceremony at the Clark Sports Village yesterday. — Bernama

THE big day is here. The months of preparations, the training and the competitions all come to a head when the 30th SEA Games begins in earnest in the Philippines with the opening ceremony today.

Already, there have been hiccups, both for the arriving teams and for the organisers. The opening ceremony itself will be one of a kind as it is being held at the world’s largest indoor stadium with the cauldron being lit 150km away through “digital means”.

The opening ceremony will take place at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan Province, just north of Metro Manila but the cauldron tower is located at the newly-built athletics stadium and aquatics centre in New Clark City.

Although no details have been released to the cauldron lighting, it is learnt that Filipino boxing champions Manny Pacquiao (pic) and Nesthy Petecio will light the flame.The Malaysian target for the Games is 70 gold medals and the youthful Malaysian contingent can get things going when the first medals are handed out tomorrow in polo.

Things may get chaotic, what with Typhoon Tisoy predicted to hit the Games venues, but the Malaysian athletes have been told to be prepared for the worst yet stay cool and focused.

Malaysia will be represented by its biggest contingent comprising 773 athletes (326 women and 447 men) and also 339 officials.

Of the 773,322 will be competing in their first SEA Games.

Hitting the 70-gold mark will be the objective over the next 11 days of competition as Malaysia seek to secure their best overall performance outside of the country.

The previous best was 68 golds in Korat, Thailand, in 2007.

The Philippines are hosting 56 sports, including little known sports in the region such as kurash, floorball, underwater hockey and jiu-jitsu.

National Sports Council director-general Datuk Ahmad Shapawi Ismail said they had prepared the athletes mentally for the task ahead.

“We have told the athletes and respective team managers to expect the worst. We have warned them that not everything will run smoothly, ” said Shapawi.

“We are anticipating delays in getting to the venues due to traffic and there could be problems with equipment.

“We have told the athletes to give their best and stay focused as these matters are not within their control. Their opponents face the same situation too.

“The teething problems are only in Manila. Athletes are fine in Clark as they are housed in the Games Village.

“The Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) are in touch with the Philippines SEA Games Organising Committee (Phisgoc) on food and transportation issues. They have been given assurances that all will be ready when the respective competitions start.

“Philippines president (Rodrigo Duterte) has also intervened to get things moving, ” added Shapawi.

The contingent will be a mix of newcomers and seasoned campaigners but chef-de-mission Datuk Megat Zulkarnain Omardin is optimistic that the team will be able to rise collectively to the challenge.

“We have 322 athletes aged under 21. That’s why we lowered expectations this time although the Philippines have more sports compared to Korat.

“There are many new sports and as such, we don’t have the data from the previous SEA Games. I believe the 70-gold target is realistic. We should be competing with Thailand, Indonesia or Vietnam to end the campaign as one of the top four nations in the Games, ” added Megat.

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