PH hopes to retain crown, as SEA Games officially open


Posted at May 12 2022 10:30 PM | Updated as of May 13 2022 02:06 AM

Members of the Philippines contingent hold their national flags during the opening ceremony of the 31st Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) at the My Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi on May 12, 2022. Nhac Nguyen, AFP​

Olympic pole-vaulter EJ Obiena led the Philippine contingent in the parade of nations to formally open the 31st Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi, Vietnam on Thursday night.

Obiena, Asia's top pole vaulter, carried the national flag, as the national team marched at the My Dinh National Stadium Friday night.

Joining him at the parade were 30 members of the Philippine contingent, including Philippine Olympic Committee president Bambol Tolentino, part of a heavily restricted appearance of athletes as organizers remained wary of the pandemic.

Also competing in these Games are Olympians Carlos Yulo (gymnastics), gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz (weightlifting), and silver medalist Nesthy Petecio and bronze medalist Eumir Marcial (boxing).

The Philippines sent a total of 495 athletes who will compete in 39 sports, looking to defend the overall crown that it won in 2019 in a Games held in its home turf.

That year, the hosts collected 149 gold, 117 silver, and 121 bronze medals for the overall SEA Games championship. 

The Philippines also won the overall title in 2005.

– Games open in party-like air – 

Vietnam set off a spectacle of lights, dance and music at Thursday's opening ceremony, brushing aside gloomy weather to launch a party-like atmosphere eclipsing a six-month COVID-19 delay of the event.

Fireworks exploded above the capital city's 40,000-seat My Dinh National Stadium during the two-hour show, as colorful computer-generated landscapes and traditional art were projected on a giant screen and white stage.

The 18-day biennial SEA Games has Olympic staples including athletics and swimming alongside regional sports such as the Indonesian martial art of pencak silat and xiangqi, also known as Chinese chess.

Hundreds of athletes representing the over 4,900 sportsmen and women from 11 competing nations strolled from behind the screen, waving national flags as they walked past lines of women in traditional Vietnamese dress.

"On behalf of the leaders of Vietnamese party, state and government, thank you for participating in the opening of the 31st SEA Games in Hanoi," Vietnam President Nguyen Xuan Phuc said in a speech.

"I declare the opening of the Games, and wish the Games a big success."

The region's top leaders were not present at the opening ceremony, as Southeast Asia's heads of state were in Washington meeting with US President Joe Biden at a special summit.

Filling their place instead were senior Vietnamese leaders and regional sports officials.

The Games were originally planned for a November 2021 launch but were postponed by six months after a fierce Covid-19 wave infected millions and locked down the country.

It has been nearly two decades since the communist country first hosted the Games in 2003, and the second time the stadium held the multi-sports event's opening ceremony.

A short but heavy mid-afternoon downpour initially drenched the stadium though it failed to halt hundreds of dancers moving to the music and the projected images.

Hot air balloons bearing the competing nations' flags rose above the stadium, and a Vietnamese runner, Quach Thi Lan, lit the torch for the Games.

As the ceremony ended local pop singers belted the Games' official song, "Let's Shine," with the audience using their mobile phone flashes to illuminate the stadium in a sea of lights.

Competition has already started and finished in some events, including beach handball, kickboxing and diving, the last of which Malaysia dominated with a clean sweep of the sport's eight categories.

Ahead of Thursday's ceremony, Vietnam made a strong start with 10 golds, with Malaysia closely behind with nine along with Indonesia's three.

But the bulk of the disciplines begin Friday and run until the closing ceremony on May 23. – With a report by Patrick Lee, Agence France-Presse