NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar- Myanmar set its sights on the ambitious target of 100 gold medals at the Southeast Asian Games on Thursday after stunning guests with a lavish opening ceremony.
The sports ministry’s deputy director-general Onh Myint Oo said the hosts, who have not topped the SEA Games medals table since the 1960s, were going for 100 golds and maybe more.
“We are targeting 100 gold medals and hopefully more,” he told AFP.
Myanmar won just 16 gold medals at the Games’ last edition in 2011, meaning they are aiming for more than a six-fold increase.
The impoverished country now emerging from decades of military rule has not finished top of the medals table since last hosting the regional tournament in 1969.
But Myanmar, backed heavily by Chinese money, put on an impressive spectacle in Wednesday’s opening ceremony, whose scale and quality took some observers by surprise.
“People are happy across the country. They had tears in their eyes, it was the best opening ceremony at any SEA Games,” said Onh Myint Oo, one of the ceremony’s key organisers.
“We are grateful to the Chinese for their help with the opening ceremony,” he added.
China has provided nearly $33 million in technical assistance for the Games, including the opening and closing ceremonies.
The opening ceremony took place at the purpose-built, 30,000-seat Wunna Theikdi stadium, one of several new venues in the country’s capital Naypyidaw.
However Myanmar will face stiff competition, not least from 2011 hosts and table-toppers Indonesia, who are aiming to accrue nearly 150 gold medals.
Indonesia finished with 182 golds two years ago but the chairman of Prima, the body in charge of preparing the country’s athletes, said funding cuts have since taken their toll.
“After a thorough discussion with the national sports federations, we think getting 115 to 147 gold medals is a reasonable target,” Surya Dharma said.
“Prima is confident the athletes can manage that number. We could have achieved higher if the government provided more support for the preparation.”
He added: “We’re dealing with a budget shortage, so we’re relying on 23 sports to yield medals.
“Due to the reduced funding, we were unable to ensure that athletes got the training and match practice they needed ahead of the Games.”
Initial competition started on December 1 but most events got under way on Thursday following the opening ceremony.