COMPETITION is over at the 29th SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, with hosts Malaysia the clear sporting winners – even if the organisation of the Games has come in for much criticism.
From a purely sporting sense, though, Malaysia have dominated their home Games, winning five of the seven gold medals available on the final day to take their overall tally to 145.
Thailand, in second place, won 72 gold medals, with Vietnam claiming 58 and Singapore 57.
The performance of Malaysia on home soil was an enormous improvement from two years ago in Singapore, when they won 62 gold medals and finished fourth in the table.
And it follows a pattern of SEA Games host nations, who perform well above their usual level when the Games are on home soil.
Every host nation since the turn of the century has shown a drastically improved performance on their previous Games – and every host nation has then reverted to something much closer to their “normal” level in the following one.
2001: Malaysia, who had won 57 golds in 1999, gained 111 on home soil. Two years later, they won 44.
2003: Vietnam, who had won 33 golds in 2001, gained 158 on home soil. Two years later, they won 71.
2005: Philippines, who had won 48 golds in 2003, gained 113 on home soil. Two years later, they won 41.
2007: Thailand, who had won 87 golds in 2005, gained 183 on home soil. Two years later, they won 86.
2009: Laos, who had won five golds in 2007, gained 33 on home soil. Two years later, they won nine.
2011: Indonesia, who had won 43 golds in 2009, gained 182 on home soil. Two years later, they won 64.
2013: Myanmar, who had won 16 golds in 2011, gained 84 on home soil. Two years later, they won 12.
2015: Singapore, who had won 35 golds in 2013, gained 84 on home soil. This year, they won 57.
— Kuala Lumpur 2017 (@KL2017) August 30, 2017
These numbers almost disprove the whole idea of “legacy”: that success on home soil is a springboard for further, continued, improvement.
Malaysia have set lofty ambitions, with Youth & Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin stating they must “remain consistently in the top three” of the medal table. “We do not want this to be a one-off,” he added.
That will be difficult. Where home Games should, in theory, inhibit some athletes due to the additional pressure, the reality is that they provide added inspiration.
Then there is the issue of the officiating, much of which is often accused of being sympathetic to a host nation, whose supporters greatly outnumber those of their opponents.
Malaysia are, for now, undisputedly the leaders in Southeast Asian sport.
But in the seven SEA Games since they last played host – those between 2003 and 2015 – only once, when finishing second in Thailand in 2007, have they finished inside the top three.
When the Games next come around in 2019 – which, we are led to believe, are still taking place in Philippines – Malaysia will not only have to overcome an energised host nation but the impact of no longer being hosts themselves.
Khairy’s ambitions are noble – and he was hardly going to say anything else at a time when Malaysian sport has been awash with sporting success.
But history suggests maintaining the wave of confidence and optimism from the past few weeks into 2019 and beyond will be a very difficult task.
Final medal table
- Malaysia (145 gold, 92 silver, 86 bronze)
- Thailand (72 gold, 86 silver, 88 bronze)
- Vietnam (58 gold, 50 silver, 60 bronze)
- Singapore (57 gold, 58 silver, 73 bronze)
- Indonesia (38 gold, 63 silver, 90 bronze)
- Philippines (24 gold, 33 silver, 64 bronze)
- Myanmar (7 gold, 10 silver, 20 bronze)
- Cambodia (3 gold, 2 silver, 12 bronze)
- Laos (2 gold, 3 silver, 21 bronze)
- Brunei (0 gold, 5 silver, 9 bronze)
- Timor-Leste (0 gold, 0 silver, 3 bronze)