Debutant Cray is South-east Asia's fastest man
Filipino-American blows away Jirapong and the rest of the field to win men's 100m
The grandstand of the National Stadium steadily filled, as the clock ticked down to the 5.50pm scheduled start for the race.
The chatter grew louder and louder, as the crowd grew bigger and bigger.
Former Singapore sprinter Hamkah Afiq was out on the pitch to provide some expert analysis, there were loud cheers as veteran commentator Brian Richmond announced the presence of track and field great K Jayamani and decathlon champion Tang Ngai Kin in the stands.
On Day One of the South-east Asia (SEA) Games track and field programme, athletics luminaries like Chee Swee Lee, Patrick Zehnder, P C Suppiah, Lim Hong Kang and Glory Barnabas were seated happy in one corner, waiting in anticipation. For the men's 100m.
Minutes past the 5.50pm mark, nearly 8,000 people somehow heeded Nila's instruction for silence, a quiet fell over the magnificent facility, as the fans craned their necks for a sight of the eight men hunched down on the starting blocks.
The starter's gun fired, and the eight pushed off the blocks in a flash, devouring metres of the world-class Mondo track in mere seconds.
After some 42 strides, or 10.25sec, the region crowned a new sprint king.
Eric Cray, the 26-year-old Filipino-American, blew away the field in the traditional blue-riband event of the Games, finishing comfortably ahead of the Indonesian pair of Iswandi and Boby Yaspi, who both crossed the line in 10.45.
"I tried to get out of the blocks as fast as possible," Cray said, after becoming the first Filipino to win the SEA Games 100m.
"I still don't think I have the best technique, but I was banking on my acceleration.
"I knew I had a chance, but we knew the Thai guy (Jirapong Meenapra) is phenomenal.
"The pressure was to beat him, but I just tried to stay calm. In the end, I'm just happy with the win."
The big shock of the day was Jirapong.
He had boasted an easy defence of his title, but Thailand's triple sprint champion at the 2013 SEA Games (100m, 200m and 4x100m relay) finished a disappointing fifth in 10.48.
Singaporeans Calvin Kang (10.47) and Amirudin Jamal (10.55) finished fourth and sixth, respectively.
Cray, born to a Filipina mum and American dad, is the reigning SEA Games 400m hurdles champion and decided to have a crack at the 100m only this year.
He moved to the United States with his family when he was three and is currently based in Texas, where he is coached by three-time Olympian Davian Clarke, a former 400m runner for Jamaica.
He sent a warning to his competitors in the morning's heats by clocking 10.28 to become the fastest qualifier, but his dominance in the final was still unexpected.
A disconsolate Jirapong was at a loss for words to explain why he flopped.
Said the 22-year-old: "I'm very disappointed I could not defend my gold. I tried my best, but my time was very bad.
"I think it is because I'm tired because I ran in China last week (at the Asian Track and Field Championships in Wuhan).
"Still, I expected to win the 100m and 200m double again. Now, I have only the 200 left. Let's see if I can do it.
"For sure, I'll be back in two years' time to try (to regain the 100m title) again."
Despite not finishing among the medals, Kang was happy at shaving 0.01 off his personal best, which he set at the Singapore Open in April.
"Everything went pretty well for me," said the 25-year-old.
"I just started training with my new coach (national sprints head coach Luis Cunha) and usually you see progress in a year or more.
"But I already have two personal bests this year, so that's a good sign."
For Amirudin, yesterday's race was a muted end to his individual exploits at the SEA Games.
The 28-year-old has already said he will not race at the next SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur in 2017, but he still has the 4x100m relay on Friday to look forward to and try to end his Games' career on a high.
The 2013 SEA Games 100m bronze medallist said: "Of course I would have loved it if I got another personal best or a medal, but it's not my luck... It's not the best ending, but it's okay."
"I still don’t think I have the best technique, but I was banking on my acceleration."
- Eric Cray, winner of the men’s 100m
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Kayla ends Philippines' 20-year wait for sprint queen
FASTEST FEMALES: (From near left) Singapore's Shanti Pereira finishes third in the women's 100m, behind gold medallist Kayla Richardson of the Philippines and Thailand's Tassaporn Wannakit. - PHOTOS: SINGSOC/ACTION IMAGES
Twenty long years.
That was how long the Philippines have had to bide their time.
Yesterday evening, the wait was finally over, when teenage sensation Kayla Richardson won the gold medal in the women's 100m at the National Stadium.
Still only 17, she produced a brilliant display to pip Thailand's Tassaporn Wannakit in a photo-finish after both crossed the line in 11.76, while Singapore's Shanti Pereira (11.88) took the bronze medal.
The last Filipino woman to win gold in the 100m was Elma Muros at the 1995 South-east Asia (SEA) Games in Chiang Mai.
That was also during a period when the Philippines dominated the event, with Lydia de Vega winning three of four gold medals from 1987 to 1993.
During yesterday's race, she displayed all the traits of a seasoned veteran, looking a picture of concentration at the starting blocks to the confidence she exuded with every stride.
Yet, Kayla remains a teenage girl at heart and she gave everyone a heart-warming reminder of that at the finish line, as she tried to come to terms with the fact that she had just become South-east Asia's fastest woman.
Despite compatriot and fellow competitor Princess Griffey's frenetic celebrating by her side, the California native could manage only a look of utter shock when it dawned that the gold was hers.
She also looked nervous and uncomfortable at being peppered by questions after the race, but answered them with a youthful innocence.
"I'm so amazed at what just happened," she said.
"I can't really explain it... I'm just speechless at the moment."
Then, after a momentary pause, she added: "This is what I came here to do and I'm glad I was able to accomplish it.
"I think I'm younger than all the other competitors, so that was a challenge in itself.
"There were also the nerves to deal with, but I'm happy with the way I handled it and the way I managed to represent my country in the best possible way."
Having helped the Philippines reclaim their place at the top, the onus will now be on Kayla to keep her country there at the pinnacle of women's sprints.
And, considering that she felt yesterday's performance was far from perfect, one can only imagine how good she might be in the years to come.
"I knew that I had to get out of the blocks quickly, but my start wasn't that good," she explained.
"But I knew I could rely on my top-end speed and, in the end, it worked out for the best."
Richardson's win completed a sprint double (10 minutes earlier Eric Cray won the men's 100m) and helped her country to a total of three golds and one silver in athletics yesterday.