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Sports >> Sunday December 16, 2007

Thailand runaway winners

Kingdom's athletes garner 183 gold medals in 10-day showpiece

Kittipong Thongsombat

Thailand finished with 183 gold medals as the 24th SEA Games closed with a colourful ceremony last night.

Fireworks, music and traditional Thai dancing bade farewell to 11 member countries at His Majesty the King's 80th Birthday Anniversary Stadium in this northeastern province.

Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont presided over the closing ceremony.

"Sports events not only strengthen relations among nations but also give opportunities for athletes to develop their skills," said the prime minister.

Gen Yuthasak Sasiprapha, president of the Olympic Committee of Thailand, handed over the SEA Games flag to Laotian Deputy Prime Minister Somsawat Lengsavad at the ceremony. Laos will host the competition in 2009.

Thailand were runaway leaders on the medals standings with 183 golds - 115 more than second-placed Malaysia who had 68. Previous overall winners the Philippines ended with a mere 41.

Indonesia won 194 golds when they staged the Games in 1997.

Among the 11 competitors, only East Timor returned home without any medals. The tiny nation became the became the first new sovereign state of the 21st century after gaining independence from Indonesia in 2002.

On the final day of competition, the hosts clinched nine more golds in tennis (three), rhythmic gymnastics (one), equestrian (two), beach volleyball (one) and sepak takraw (two).

Tharatip Sridee proved she is still Thailand's best rhythmic gymnast by picking up the gold in hoop and three silvers in ribbon, clubs and rope yesterday. She had earlier won the all-round title.

In equestrian, the hosts finished one-two in the individual eventing. Nina Ligon, 16, won the gold and Wirsrut Tangplan, 43, took the silver. They also helped Thailand secure the gold in the team eventing.

Thailand's Natthanan Junkrajang and Miguel Molina of the Philippines won the best female and male athlete awards.

Miguel and Natthanan each won four golds, one silver and one bronze in swimming. The 21-year-old Thai set records in three events."I am happy to win an international award," said Natthanan.

"I think about my parents who have supported me from the start."

The 24th Games was hit by controversy and claims of unfair judging.

Malaysia pulled out of the takraw competition to protest against the new rubber-coated ball supplied by Thai firm Marathon.

The Philippines forfeited all but one of their seven finals in the men's boxing as they were furious at the officiating in the women's boxing finals a day earlier.

Malaysia and the Philippines could face harsh punishment from the governing bodies of the two sports.

In the meantime, Laos plan to slash the number of sports at the next SEA Games from 45 to just 25, but will still make room for petanque, pencak silat and shuttlecock kicking.

Blue riband events including athletics, soccer and swimming will be included but less popular sports including sailing, weightlifting and gymnastics are threatened with the chop.

"Brunei (in 1999) had only 23 sports. We are also a small country, and it is our first time hosting a major Games," vice-president of the Laos SEA Games Organising Committee Phouthong Sengakhom said.



Thailand 183 123 103 409

Malaysia 68 52 96 216

Vietnam 64 58 82 204

Indonesia 56 64 83 203

Singapore 43 43 41 127

Philippines 41 91 96 228

Burma 14 26 47 87

Laos 5 7 32 44

Cambodia 2 5 11 18

Brunei 1 1 4 6

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