KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 19 — The 29th SEA Games returned to the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil in a blaze of colour, light and fireworks as Kuala Lumpur welcomed 4,900 of the region’s best athletes after a lapse of 16 years.
The Malaysian contingent marched proudly into the arena to loud cheers and applause with the unprecedented trio of keirin world champion Azizulhasni Awang, world diving queen Cheong Jun Hoong and world silat champion Mohd Al-Jufferi Jamari bearing the Jalur Gemilang.
Spectators packing the nearly 90,000-capacity stadium also greeted the rest of the 10 participating countries with loud applause as they marched according to the alphabetical order starting with Brunei Darussalam and Malaysia as the final group.
Malaysia, who are eyeing 111 gold medals to become the overall champions of the 2017 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games (KL2017) , are leading the gold chase with seven gold.
At stake are 404 gold medals in 38 sports, including the debut of ice hockey, ice skating, indoor hockey and cricket.
The ceremony broadcast live throughout the country and beyond kicked off at 6pm with the crowd kept entertained by, among others, school band displays and a show by the Malaysian Armed Forces before the arrivals of foreign dignitaries, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Muhammad V.
His Majesty opened the Games with: “I declare open the Kuala Lumpur Southeast Asian Games.”
All eyes were on Malaysian high jump star Nauraj Singh as he took the oath of sportsmanship on behalf of the athletes.
In addition to the ‘Rimau’ mascot of the KL Games, 320 Malaysian flags were brought into the stadium to symbolise the welcoming of the foreign participants by Malaysia’s 32 million population.
Popular singer Dayang Nurfaizah wowed the crowd with her rendition of the KL2017 official song titled “Bangkit Bersama” or Rising Together which is also the theme of the Games.
The crowd roared with approval when over a dozen former and current national sporting greats including football legends Datuk James Wong, Datuk Shukor Salleh and Datuk Santokh Singh, sprinter Datuk Rabuan Pit as well as bowling star Shalin Zulkifli made an appearance in the opening ceremony.
The centrepiece of the whole event was a showcase of Malaysia’s cultural diversity that came in four segments — Provenance, Similarities in Diversity, Together We are Stronger, and A Nation Built on Inclusion.
Among others, it told the story of the origins of Malaysian inhabitants, celebrated the differences of people across the country and the region, emphasised the importance of strength and endurance while the conclusion featured people coming together with differences and similarities on full display.
A total of 6,000 people were involved in the showcase consisting of performers, volunteers, children and members of the armed forces.
The climax of the KL2017 opening came when national diving rising star Nur Dhabitah Sabri, a Commowealth Games bronze medallist, lit the cauldron with a torch in a spectacularly executed move that enthralled spectators.
A colourful fireworks display then erupted over the National Stadium with the crowd whipping out their smartphones and cameras to record the occasion.
Besides Brunei and Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor Leste and Vietnam are taking part in the KL Games until August 30. — Bernama