PHNOM PENH – Defying the odds and embracing the true spirit of celebration, Cambodia, the first-time hosts of the SEA Games, threw a remarkable party to mark its place in history. Despite a passing thunderstorm that briefly interrupted Wednesday night’s closing ceremony, nothing could dampen the enthusiasm and joy that filled the air. With a spectacular display of lights, visual effects, sounds, fireworks, and a vibrant showcase of Cambodian culture, the event was a testament to the resilience and unwavering spirit of the Cambodian people.
Even as rain, lightning, and thunder tried to disrupt the pre-show entertainment at the Morodok Techo National Stadium in Phnom Penh, the on-field performers and the thousands of locals in the stands remained undeterred. Singing, dancing, and cheering with unwavering determination, they embraced the moment defiantly, defying the inclement weather. Clad in ponchos and sheltered under umbrellas, spectators braved the elements to witness a historic occasion – Cambodia’s first Games closing ceremony.
The ceremony commenced with a powerful rendition of the Cambodian national anthem and a burst of fireworks, igniting the crowd’s excitement. The enthusiastic audience witnessed a captivating display of lights, accompanied by a spectacular martial arts performance celebrating “Kun Bokator,” a traditional Cambodian martial art that made its debut in the Games. Athletes from various nations and dedicated volunteers took part in a marching parade, symbolizing unity and camaraderie.
With a crowd of 75,000 people in attendance, the atmosphere was electric as local singers and dancers delivered a mesmerizing musical performance titled “See You Again.” The celebration continued with “The Great Soul of Kun Bokator,” an awe-inspiring martial arts segment that left the audience in awe. The mascots Borey and Rumduol, dressed in traditional Khmer attire, took the stage in the heartwarming musical performance “Cambodian Pride” and “Khmer Can Do”. The grand finale arrived in a breathtaking display of fireworks, illuminating the night sky and leaving everyone in awe.
Throughout the three weeks of intense competition, Cambodia’s 896 athletes exhibited unwavering spirit and determination, clinching an impressive 81 gold medals. This achievement surpassed the country’s previous best of 17 gold medals at the 1971 South-east Asian Peninsular Games. The remarkable success of traditional sports such as kun khmer, vovinam, kun bokator, and kickboxing played a vital role in the country’s overall medal tally. Cambodia’s outstanding performance left no doubt that they had earned the right to proudly celebrate alongside their 17 million citizens.
As the closing ceremony reached its conclusion, Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen took the stage to declare the Games closed, while the cauldron’s flame was gently extinguished. In a symbolic gesture, the SEA Games flag was then passed on to Thailand, who will carry the torch and host the next edition of the Games in 2025.
Sary Sovattey, who won Miss World Cambodia in 2021 tried to go to as many games as she could to support the Cambodian teams. “ I feel amazed by the atmosphere during SEA Games,” Vattey said. “I mean I could feel a sense of unity and strength from each participating country, especially the host country, Cambodia. I loved to see how we (ASEAN countries) exchanged cultures and strengthened friendship while competing in different sports.
Amarin Sam, a Cambodian American who helped transcribe the song, “Khmer Can Do” at the SEA Game ceremonies was so proud to be part of this historic event for Cambodia. “I was really happy that our people had something to unite around and celebrate,” said Amarin. “I think that for the time that we were in the stadium, everything was ok and we were just appreciating the moment taking place in front of us.”
Hannee Tan, an expatriate from Malaysia has gone to several games including the Obstacles Race, Esports, Volleyball, Badminton, Hockey, Breakdancing, a bit of Water Polo and Acrobatics Gymnastics, to support Malaysian athletes, She brings the Malaysian flag with her to show Malaysian competitors that their home country supports them. “Cambodians should be proud of the Games now that it’s done and dusted. I am extremely proud of the young Malaysian contingent that came and many got Gold even as first timers, Hanee said. “While we fell short on the medal tally this time, I am very confident that in two years time, these 15 year olds, 17 year olds will mature and excel at their sports. SEA Games is about showcasing the talents of each ASEAN nation through sports and Malaysia definitely did just that. Now onto Para Games!”
The 32nd SEA Games brought together over 12,000 athletes, coaches, and delegates, fostering a sense of unity and friendly competition among nations. As the Games came to an end, Cambodia stood tall, having showcased its rich culture, hospitality, and indomitable spirit to the world. The legacy of these Games will continue to inspire generations, promoting the values of sportsmanship, friendship, and resilience. With each triumph, Cambodia moves forward with renewed hope and determination, ready to embrace future opportunities and achieve even greater milestones on the global stage.