Singaporeans show keen interest in June's SEA Games
They came, some decked in red, ready to bask in the festivities, while others just wandered in, drawn by the buzz.
Few can predict if Singaporeans will embrace the 28th South-east Asia (SEA) Games when it comes to the Republic in June. After all, it has been 22 years since the region's biggest multi-sport event has been hosted here.
But last night's light-up of the SEA Games arch at Orchard Road may well ease some of the worries of the organisers, because an estimated 40,000 turned up, and the Singaporeans The New Paper spoke to seemed to still remember their sporting heroes of the past, and were well aware of the athletes striving to be the leading lights of today.
"That's Fandi Ahmad's son," one mother told her young son, after they took a picture with 17-year-old Irfan Fandi, who could not seem to walk 10 metres without being stopped.
She went on to fill in her son with a brief history of Singapore's favourite footballing son, who is leading the LionsXII in their adventures in the Malaysian Super League.
"I heard some people asking, 'What's happening here', but you can see that the people are coming out," said C Kunalan, a sprint king in the 1960s and 70s.
"A lot of time and resources have been put into this, to get the public to come out and they have."
The 72-year-old rallied 12 gold-medal winners from the '93 Games - the last time Singapore were hosts - to attend last night's event, including the likes of swimmer May Ooi and hockey's Melanie Martens, to help jog collective memories of Singapore's sporting past.
And Kunalan, with 15 SEA Games medals to his name - including the men's 100m gold in Rangoon in 1969 - is living proof that people remember.
He was stopped for pictures, some just paused for a chat, others were happy to just shake his hand.
"I've had many arguments about this with my wife: when we should start (promoting the SEA Games to the public), what we can achieve, but look around, the people are here," he said.
"We need to keep this going so we can fill the stadiums. That, for me, is the most important thing."
Martens was touched by the number of people she saw who came out dressed in red.
"We didn't have this kind of thing in the lead-up to the 1993 event, but there was a sense then that someone was pulling things together," said the women's hockey great, recalling the support that her gold-medal winning team got from the media in the lead-up to the last Games hosted by the Republic.
"What we see here is a great opportunity for our athletes, this does raise awareness among the people. We could do with a bit more but it was great. I saw families coming out decked in red, and athletes coming together with one common vision.
"It would have been great to have this back then."
Appreciating the effort put in to up the ante ahead of this year's Games, Irfan was just basking in the buzz generated.
"A lot of people are here trying to bring up the hype before the SEA Games, and it's a great sign that so many are here to support us," said Irfan.
"For me as an athlete, I'm working hard so that if I do get the chance to play, I can give my best, in every single match.
"I've been stopped for pictures, more than 50 times already. Is that pressure?
"No, none at all, this is our home Games."