Friendship the biggest winner at the Games

Relieved after delivering the SEA Games gold, Vivian Rhamanan (right) hugs and kisses his team-mate Marcus Phua after the pair won the squash jumbo doubles final on June 15.

OUT there in Kallang a flame was extinguished last night, but maybe a stronger spirit for sport now flares within this nation. The SEA Games, which closed last night to music and fireworks, was a success because this nation vocally and visibly embraced it.

Even as athletes dazzled us - such as nine-year-old Malaysian Aiden Yoong Hanifah who won a water-ski bronze - it is public enthusiasm which sustained this Games. The National Stadium was almost full for the football final and Singapore was not even playing.

Athletes had to be delighted for performing is even more pleasing when there is a crowd to acknowledge effort and applaud skill. One might say it was a team effort.

In his Facebook post, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong congratulated Team Singapore athletes for their outstanding performances, but also added: "I saw crowds showing up to cheer on our athletes. I also saw the many officials and volunteers making sure everything ran smoothly.

"Thank you to the organisers, participants, volunteers, and all the fans who have made this such a memorable Games."

Singapore's athletes rode their home advantage to a record 259 medals, 84 of them gold, many won in the Singapore Sports Hub.

This was a Games in Singapore but not only for Singapore. Thailand topped the medal table with 95 golds and fittingly medals were won by every one of the 11 nations. In the arena, athletes wept and an Indonesian footballer bent down to console a defeated Singaporean. In the stands, a group of visiting fans, each carrying one letter, spelt out a sign that simply and profoundly read: FRIEND.

Even as we partitioned ourselves every day into gold, silver, bronze, this Games remains meaningful as a way to harmoniously gather a region.

In the midst of gaiety, we were shaken by the tragedy at Mount Kinabalu. Last night, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin, who is also president of the Singapore National Olympic Council, read out from the last blog post by the pupils and teachers of Tanjong Katong Primary School.

Its title was "It's not the mountain we conquer but ourselves" and every athlete would agree: Not every competitor at the Games would win but each one was in search of their best selves.

No one found their finest form as fluently as swimmer Joseph Schooling, who won all his nine events. He said: "I always strive to be the best and I'm fortunate to have accomplished my goal."

Last night, competition had ceased and, in a sweet show of athletic brotherhood, all 11 countries walked in together as one vast contingent. President Tony Tan Keng Yam declared the Games closed and called upon the region's youth "to assemble two years later in Malaysia to celebrate the 29th edition of the Games".

Now the future beckons and Mr Tan Chuan-Jin sounded an optimistic note when he said "we will work closely together" with various sporting bodies "to see how best to provide the platforms for our athletes to excel".

Sport, after all, is endlessly testing and multiple challenges await Singapore. A public must continue to romance its sportspeople. And athletes must use the momentum the medals have given them and translate it into success on grander stages. One Games is over but the pursuit of excellence has no finish line.

This article was first published on June 17, 2015.
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