VIENTIANE, Laos (AP) — Vietnam and Thailand dominated the medals table as they battled for supremacy at the Southeast Asian Games on the penultimate day of competition Thursday.
Approaching the end of Thursday’s competition, Thailand had 84 gold medals compared to Vietnam’s 81. Vietnam got golds in athletics but lost the final of the football tournament 1-0 to Malaysia. Indonesia was a distant third in the medals table, with 43 golds.
The overall winner of the event was likely to come down to the final day Friday when there are just nine gold medals up for grabs: three in tennis, and two each in petanque, sepak takraw and shooting.
Thailand had been expected to comfortably take out the overall title and win more than 100 gold medals, but Vietnam had demonstrated at these games the benefit of large amounts of government funding for sports and improved coaching.
“They’re very committed and they have taken the Southeast Asian games seriously. I am impressed,” said Malaysia’s Minister of Youth and Sports Ahmad Shabery Cheek, noting they had broadened the number of sports that they focus on, going into things like fin swimming and pencak silat.
“We are learning something from them. Now, we don’t have to go to the United States or Australia but nearby by Vietnam to learn how they have progressed.”
Maurice Nicholas, the secretary general of the Asian Athletics Association, said Vietnam was reaping reward from methodical training programs, starting with youngsters.
“I expected them to really move up ten years ago. When I met their minister of sports then, I told him, ‘You have a lot diamonds in the raw but you have to polish them. Now they have,” said Nicholas.
“The Thais are always good (in athletics) but they will have to work harder to stay on top.”
In the most popular event of the games, favorite Vietnam was humiliated by Malaysia when it scored the only goal of the game in the 81st minute to collect its first games gold in football in 20 years. Dominating the first half, the Vietnamese had two scoring chances, once when the goal was unguarded, but both shots missed the target.
The game was marked by rough play, with two players stretchered off while Vietnamese goalie Bui Tan Truong sustained an injury to his left shoulder, and was in obvious pain for the remainder of the game.
Thousands of Vietnamese fans packed the 20,000-seat stadium, having poured into the Lao capital aboard planes, buses, cars and jammed into the back of open-air trucks, waving Vietnam‘s yellow star flag and carrying portraits of revolutionary hero Ho Chi Minh.
In athletics Thursday, Thailand maintained an edge by winning three golds to Vietnam’s two. The Thais maintained their long domination of the relays, taking out both the men’s and women’s 4×100, while Treewadee Yongphan finished stronger than fading opponents to win the women’s 400 meters in 54.16.
The Vietnamese won the men’s 1,500 meters when Nguyen Dinh Cuong came in at 3:46.58, while Truong Thanh Hang won the women’s event in 4:19.48.
The defending champion and record holder in the event was way off her best time, attributing this to the unusually hot weather in what is Laos’ cool season, and saying she has been training for the games in the cold of southern China.
In the most thrilling finish of the day, Myanmar’s Naing Naing Win closed markedly over the last 100 meters and all but made up the gap, taking a silver in 4:20.47.
Two games records were broken: defending champion Triyaningsih of Indonesia won the women’s 10,000 meters in a time of 32:49.47, breaking the 2001 record of 33:50.06. And Roslinda Samsu of Malaysia broke her own women’s pole vault record of 4.10 with a leap of 4.15 meters.
Lee Hup Wei of Malaysia took the high jump with a 2.18-meter jump
In boxing, in which Thailand always banks on a slew of golds, Thai boxers took out four events. The highlight was Chatchai Buddee outpointing Indonesian Matius Mandingan 11-2 in the bantamweight category, while Olympians Amnat Ruenroeng and Sailom Adi plus Apichet Saensit also won their finals.