Building up to June climax

Building up to June climax
A giant Team Singapore flag was unfurled and carried along Orchard Road on Saturday night to drum up support for the SEA Games and athletes.

In the heart of Orchard Road stands a gleaming reminder of the 12-day sporting extravaganza that will grip Singapore in June.

The 11-metre tall SEA Games arch was lit up last night to a chorus of cheers from Team Singapore athletes, volunteers and well-wishers.

It marked a 90-day countdown to the June 5-16 showpiece, which was last held on these shores 22 years ago, and already there is a feeling that more than medals is at stake.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong called it a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" for Singaporeans to see the region's finest athletes up close.

"The next time we host the Games will be in 20-plus years, and we will never have another Games in the same year our country turns 50," said Mr Wong.

He pedalled a stationary bicycle with several Team Singapore athletes to power up the structure, which will remain till June 20.

The largest-ever Team Singapore flag, measuring 10m by 7m, was also passed along the popular shopping district on Pedestrian Night.

The first of 30 Games "Torch Up!" art installations was launched in front of the Ion Orchard mall.

As local artistes such as The Sam Willows and Daphne Khoo sang tunes from the official album, Songs of the Games, Singapore medal hopefuls, such as silat world champion Shakir Juanda and netballer Micky Lin, moved among the shoppers to share a simple message.

"Come support Team Singapore, even if it's a sport you're not sure about - give us a true home ground advantage," a chirpy Lin, 29, said.

There were encouraging sights as new-found fans stopped to take pictures and find out more about the athletes decked out in red.

Bank executive Lynette Tham, 32, said: "It's nice to get to talk to them and find out what are their motivations and challenges.

"If I know the story behind the athlete, it makes me want to go down and support them."

To get more buy-in from Singaporeans, the Games will also visit the heartland.

Roadshows and sports festivals have been lined up, and athletes will return to the districts they grew up in to woo residents to go to venues and support them.

Team Singapore stars will also be visiting schools to educate youth about the Games, an event they may not know much about since they were not born when it was last staged here.

For the uninitiated, the biennial competition will showcase 36 sports and 18 of them, including athletics, will be free for the spectators.

Tickets for swimming, gymnastics, badminton, diving and water polo are in high demand while cuesports, equestrian and fencing have already sold 70 per cent of tickets to date.

"Bit by bit, Singaporeans are more aware that the Games is coming to town and our athletes will be doing their best to reach out to them," said Lim Teck Yin, chairman of the Games' organising committee.

More than 80 per cent of tickets for the opening ceremony on June 5 at the National Stadium have already been snapped up.

Judging by past editions, fireworks are guaranteed during the Games proper as old rivalries re-ignite and new heroes rise.

Team Singapore chef de mission Nicholas Fang said: "There is nothing like the power, beauty and excitement of sports.

"It's better than a movie and it's real life."

nsanjay@sph.com.sg


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