The SEA Games carnival around the Singapore Sports Hub was teeming with people. Fathers clasping the hands of daughters, teenagers with their friends, even senior citizens, hobbling along behind prams.
This was half-past nine on a Tuesday morning.
It was a similar story at the OCBC Arena for volleyball, even across the park at the OCBC Aquatic Centre as Singapore's swimmers and divers took centre stage. And also at netball, hockey and floorball.
Before the Games came to Singapore, there were doubts whether Singaporeans had forgotten why it was special to back their countrymen in the sporting arena, how it felt to lend voices to a cause.
But they came - in droves - in red and white, no less.
"We were very encouraged by the level of support and the people who came out to cheer our athletes and be part of the entire SEA Games experience,"said Sport Singapore (SportSG) chief and chairman of the Singapore South-east Asian Games Organising Committee (Singsoc) executive committee, Lim Teck Yin, yesterday.
"We saw many of our venues get maxed-out in terms of their capacities, and we tried to accommodate as many people as possible."
Indeed, Singapore started jumping on the Games bandwagon even before Fandi Ahmad and his son Irfan lit the cauldron on June 5, with official numbers for milestone events and community roadshows in the past 18 months reaching out to some 1.2 million people.
Lim revealed that a total of 850,000 were engaged during the Games, while 500,000 spectators watched from the stands in 31 venues across the island.
But it wasn't just the numbers that were encouraging.
At least twice, during the Games - once at the OCBC Aquatic Centre and another at the Sengkang Hockey Stadium - the music track for Majulah Singapura came to a stuttering stop, only for Singaporeans in the stands to pick it up, with a-cappella pride.
It hints at what is perhaps a revival of that underlying, elusive spirit that spurs everyone from the couch potato to the elite athlete - a sporting culture.
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong also drew much confidence from the 91.5 per cent daily average attendance numbers for the 17,000-strong volunteer corps, in addition to fan numbers.
"A sporting culture is a growing process and, at the SEA Games, we saw more and more of a fan culture," he said.
"I'm hopeful and optimistic that this can carry on even after the SEA Games," he added, positive that even if the sporting public dips from the high of the Games, it will settle at a new normal.
Sprinter Shanti Pereira, the nine-star Aquaman Joseph Schooling, and even the netball women were hunted down for autographs and photographs at their respective sporting arenas, and it warmed Wong's heart.
Indeed, there were times when fans and supporters queued and still could not get into venues, while others stood and watched, sat on steps or, in the case of hockey, lay on a mound of grass alongside the gates at Sengkang Hockey Stadium just to catch a glimpse of the action.
While Lim did apologise, it was an apology that came with a hint of a smile at what was a happy problem.
"If we could better anticipate the levels at which people were going to respond to particular sports, we could've of course better prepared ourselves, maybe (organised) more live screenings, (taken) more opportunities to tell people to come (to the venues) earlier.
"But, overall I think people in Singapore have been very patient with us, and offered us constructive feedback," he said.
"We'd like to apologise of course where we've had some shortcomings but we want to build on this success."
They built it, the Singapore Sports Hub, they erected the carnival, and made the roadshows happen, and everyone came.
Athletes showed up, hearts on sleeves in the arena, and Singaporeans stood in the stands, hearts swelling with pride, inspired, in what was indeed a Games of the people.
SEA Games events and community roadshows reached out to 1.2 million people over the past 18 months.
This article was first published on June 20, 2015.
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