SINGAPORE (VNS) - The 28th SEA Games closed on a sombre note at Singapore's new national Stadium yesterday, 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 fund raising campaign.
In his closing speech, Tan 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.
The 28th Southeast Asian Games in Singapore was a success for Viet Nam's sportsmen and women.
The team won 73 gold, 53 silver and 60 bronze medals to rank third in the medals table, exceeding the target of 56-65 golds.
Most gold medals were won in Olympic events, easily the ratio won at the Games two years ago in Myanmar.
The three key events were swimming (10 golds), athletics (11 golds) and gymnastics (nine golds). Other events such as rowing (nine golds), fencing (eight golds), taekwondo (five golds) and shooting (four golds) are also crowned their success.
According to Tran Duc Phan, deputy director of the National Sports Administration and chef-de-mission of Viet Nam for the Singapore Games, the success was a result of the administration's investment in about 50 athletes, who will aim to go further at big events in athletics, swimming, gymnastics, shooting and weightlifting.
"We've changed the development direction to bigger events such as the Asian Games (ASIAD) and the Olympics, instead of regional events. That is the reason why Olympic events have received investment. Nutrition and health care at national sports training centres have also been improved," Phan added.
With eight golds and eight SEA Games records, 18-year-old swimmer Nguyen Thi Anh Vien was the star of the Games for Viet Nam.
Coach Dang Anh Tuan said that after her performance at the Games, the Can Tho-born swimmer would be close to ASIAD medals.
"Vien made two big breakthroughs. Her results in the women's 200m and 400m freestyle exceeded ASIAD bronze medals. Her result of 4:8.66 in the 400m freestyle was only a second less than the gold medal at the last ASIAD," said Tuan.
"With Vien's ability, she can triumph at continental events and can reach the final rounds of world events," Tuan added.
In addition to outstanding results in swimming, the track and field team were also a high point for Viet Nam group at the Games.
Nguyen Thi Huyen won two individual and one team gold medal for Viet Nam, booking an official berth at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in Brazil.
Huyen finished on top in the women's 400m hurdles final on June 10 with a time of 56.15 seconds, breaking the 20-year Games record of 56.78 set by Thailand's Srithoa Reawadee in the Philippines.
She also went on to take top honours in the women's 400m on June 12. She clocked a final time of 52.00 seconds, smashing the Games record and meeting the 2016 Olympic standard for the event.
Nguyen Van Lai broke the 22-year SEA Games record in the men's 5,000m, clocking a final time of 14:04.82, smashing the previous record of 14:08.97 set by Malaysia's Ramachandran Murusamy at the 1993 SEA Games in Singapore.
The Vietnamese athletics team also broke a 24 year-old SEA Games record in the women's 4x400m relay. They finished first in a time of 3:31.46 to break the old record of 3:35.53 set by Thai runners at the 1991 Games in the Philippines.
According to athletics coach Nguyen Trong Ho, Viet Nam's silver medals also made an impression at the Games. Bui Thu Thao clinched a silver in the women's long jump with her best jump of 6.65m, more than 10 centimetres further than the 6.55m achieved by ASIAD gold medalist Maria Natalia Londa of Indonesia.
Viet Nam sent only 392 athletes to compete in 28 out of 36 events at the Singapore Games, compared to the 500-700 athletes in previous events. Thailand and Singapore sent more than 1,000 athletes each, with Indonesia at 700 and Malaysia at 600.
Viet Nam performed outstandingly at the regional event, but to compete at continental and international events, Viet Nam needs more from leaders, coaches and athletes.
For the 31st SEA Games which is scheduled to be held in Viet Nam in 2021, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has entrusted the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to co-ordinate with relevant agencies to organise the Games.