NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar: A blaze of fireworks and color brought the curtain down on the Southeast Asian Games in Myanmar on Sunday—an event which marked the formerly cloistered country’s return to the international stage.
A spectacular closing ceremony illuminated by fireworks, animation and thousands of dancers delighted the crowd at the 30,000-capacity stadium in the sprawling capital Naypyidaw.
The raising of the Singapore flag—the city-state will host the regional showpiece in 2015 — marked the end of 11 official days of competition which saw Thailand top the medals table with 107 golds.
The event was hailed as Myanmar’s ‘coming out’ party and was given to the hosts as a reward for reforms overseen by President Thein Sein, who was present at the closing and opening ceremonies.
Concerns over Myanmar’s readiness to host a large international standard event had been raised ahead of the Games, while the distances between venues in the vast capital also raised eyebrows.
But Myanmar has basked in its host status and a rare moment in the international limelight after years in isolation under military rule.
“Some local and international observers thought Myanmar could not host the SEA Games,” said the president’s spokesman Ye Htut on his Facebook page. “They were wrong.”
The closing ceremony saw thousands of dancers perform scenes from Myanmar’s history to an animated background broadcast on vast screens flanking one side of the stadium.
At one point hundreds of teenage boys and girls delighted the crowd with a synchronised demonstration of chinlone—a local cane-ball game—which was followed by scores of elaborately-dressed drummers pounding a rhythm for an array of dancers.
The opening and closing ceremonies were supported in cash and know-how by China—which confirmed its own re-emergence onto the international platform with the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008.
A SEA Games official thanked China at the closing ceremony for its “tremendous support” which officials said amounted to $33 million.
While little known outside the region, the Games are a source of local bragging rights for the 11 competing nations and give athletes from lesser sporting nations the chance to shine.
While Thailand topped the medals, winning many leading track and field events as well as the flagship men’s football gold, Myanmar came in a respectable second with 86 gold medals.
It had been accused of cherry-picking non-Olympic sports such as chinlone to ensure a strong showing on home soil.