Palembang in 2011 is not Jakarta in 1997, but both cities now share the same place in Southeast Asian sporting history as co-hosts of the region’s biennial festival of sport. All was grand, glam and spectacular.
After months of anxious preparation marred by corruption and faulty coordination, the 26th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games officially opened on Friday evening with flair, flash and artistic glitter laden with culturally rich ceremonial performances.
The organizers allocated Rp 150 billion (US$16.8 million) to launch the Games in a three-hour show involving more than 3,000 dancers and pop singers Agnes Monica from Indonesia, K.C. Concepcion from the Philippines and Jaclyn Victor from Malaysia, who jointly sang the Games’ theme song, “Together We’ll Shine”, at Sriwijaya Stadium.
The celebration was dampened by rainfall during the ceremony.
The highlights, however, remained varied from the artistic vehicle parade, the hoisting of the Games flag and art performances depicting the illustrious story of the Sriwijaya Kingdom, the native kingdom of Sumatra that ruled areas surpassing the borders of the current archipelagic state.
The spectators packing the 40,000-capacity stadium were also stunned by breathtaking theatrics in the lighting of the flame by badminton legend Susi Susanti, who threw a flaming spear into the cauldron while flying on a steel sling wire 35 meters in the air.
The ceremony, which was attended by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was enlivened by a laser and fireworks display.
Organizers in Jakarta also brought the festive mood into the city by setting off fireworks at the National Monument (Monas) in Central Jakarta at 21:45 p.m and invited Jakartans to join the people’s celebrations at Merdeka Square in the Monas vicinity.
More than 15,900 athletes and officials from 11 countries have arrived in Palembang and Jakarta.
Some have already begun competing, although various problems linger as of Friday, especially concerning venues and infrastructure.
There still was no ticketing information available on the Games’ official website as of Friday.
An official said that ticketing information was supposed to be available on its website, www.seag211.com as of Tuesday, but on Friday afternoon the website temporarily crashed amid nagging technical glitches.
Despite the impediments, Indonesia aims to regain its honor and glory by becoming the overall medal champion in the 26th SEA Games, despite lackluster performances posted over the past several years in international sporting tournaments.
Indonesia has traditionally hovered atop the SEA Games medal table, particularly when it hosted the Games in 1979, 1987 and 1997.
Indonesia slumped to fifth position in the 2005 Games in Manila. Indonesia gradually bounced back to finish fourth in 2007 Games in Thailand and then finishing third in the 2009 Games in Vientiane, Laos.
This year there will be 545 gold medals contested in 43 events.
Indonesia secured its first two golds on Friday, as well as two silvers and one bronze from its canoeing and kayaking teams.
Rower Eka Octarorianus finished in first place in the men’s 1,000-meter singles canoeing event and won another gold in the men’s 1,000-meter doubles paired with Anwar Tarra.
Indonesia’s national soccer team also extended its winning campaign after defeating Singapore 2-0 at Bung Karno Stadium in Central Jakarta on Friday afternoon with goals by Papuan players Patrich Wanggai and Titus Bonai.