May Singapore sport's magic continue long after the Games
Magic of sport comes alive in Singapore, now for it to burn long after the cauldron goes out
As the crowds build while the clock counts down, there is Ang Peng Siong and Grace Young walking busily through silent admirers and noisy fans, sometimes stopping but mostly negotiating fences and barricades and photo requests with gleaming smiles and heartfelt waves.
I spot batik-clad badminton sorcerer Taufik Hidayat and the Indonesians milling outside the arena at the Singapore Sports Hub yesterday crowd round their hero for wefies, and that boyish smile is unmistakable as he obliges.
I move into the cavernous National Stadium and middle-distance Lord, Sebastian Coe, and Asian sprint giant, Dr Mani Jegathesan, are chatting away.
Everyone waiting, for the opening ceremony of the 28th South-east Asia (SEA) Games, and the official start of an event seen as a crucial player in reviving a once powerful love.
Between a nation and sport.
Those 40,000-odd witnesses at the country's magnificent new sports cathedral in Kallang last night sent an electric surge that would have been felt at Woodlands and Jurong to Queenstown and Bedok and in the other precincts across the country, when the huge Singapore contingent marched, hopped and sometimes danced through the stadium.
We love Malaysia, Timor Leste, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brunei, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos; we cheered for each of their contingents but we roared for Ting Wen, Joseph, Shanti, Faris, Yu Mengyu, Anumantan and our rest, and our neighbours would have understood.
Sport in Singapore threatens to be back in the big time and we waited 22 years for this powerful catalyst, the hope is that much of the country will flock to the boxing ring and the pool, the shooting range, the OCBC Arena and the Indoor Stadium, the National Stadium and the various other SEA Games venues over the next two weeks and revive their passion for the game.
The official flag-bearers at last night's ceremony will know what I'm talking about.
Ask Zainal Abidin, that world-class squash exponent, or Adelene Wee a bowling world champion, or Peng Siong, once the fastest man in water.
They were Singapore sports kings and queens when thousands bothered to watch a local rugby battle at the Padang or an amateur football match at Farrer Park, when crowds flocked to see C Kunalan and Heather Merican strut their sprint stuff.
Today, at this 2015 SEA Games, it is the time for this generation of Singapore sports talent to show off their qualities and inspire a people.
The creative director of last night's opening ceremony, Beatrice Chia-Richmond, along with a brains trust from Mindef, worked magic to get us in the mood.
Young children took centrestage, the various tongues of South-east Asia spoke, our late founding father Lee Kuan Yew raised emotions with his strong tone of encouragement, Sports Minister Lawrence Wong told a proud sports story, President Tony Tan Keng Yam declared the SEA Games open, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong mingled with a group of our athletes on screen in a poignant moment.
Chia-Richmond conjured up five acts for the night.
Act 1 was DNA and lights, the theme Imagination followed, the youth and their dreams was the focus in Act 3. Act 4 and 5 was about sports and the city and Singapore in the stadium and our great swimming hope Joseph Schooling stood tall among legends like the SEA Games' greatest gold-medal machine, swimmer Joscelin Yeo, sailor Ben Tan and silat's Hall of Famer Sheik Alau'ddin.
All the main actors in what is hopefully a compelling story of revival are united.
Our former world-class hockey player Melanie Martens boomed loud in the stadium when she said: "It takes a nation to raise an athlete."
Fandi Ahmad will know what she's talking about.
He is forever our Fandi because he gave us joy, allowed us to dream, made us cry, laugh, roar, cheer and also despair in a storied football adventure that also caught the imagination of the whole region.
It helped that he was damn good.
Son Irfan is striving to follow in the footsteps, dad is game to help and the Fandis believe all their children will gain immeasurably through sport.
Fittingly, father and son raised the loudest cheers when they lit the cauldron last night.
The SEA Games is officially open for business in the Lion City.
It's the perfect time to start the next long and deadly-serious sports story, Singapore.
Without forgetting it's fun.
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Lawrence Wong...
"Tonight, we write a new chapter of our sporting story — it’s a story of Singapore sport, and also South-east Asian sport."
- On the Games’ opening
"The SEA Games are about fostering bonds of friendship, and strengthening our regional solidarity. We thank all of our guests, from Singapore and around the region, for joining us at this special occasion."
- On hosting of some 7,000 athletes from 11 nations
"Ordinary folks like you and I may not be able to break national records. But we can all be extraordinary in our own ways, pushing our own limits, striving to do better, and setting new personal bests. That’s really the spirit of the Games."
- On the Games’ spirit