THAILAND aim to top the medals table at the 25th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games starting in Laos this week with organisers hoping the event is free from bitter accusations of unfair judging that blighted the last edition.
The 10-day biennial showpiece officially opens tomorrow in the capital Vientiane, with attention also focused on medal hopefuls ahead of next year's Asian Games in China.
Two years ago, then-hosts Thailand dominated the medals standings with 183 gold out of a total of 477 well ahead of second-placed Malaysia on 68 and Vietnam on 64.
Thailand won their eighth consecutive football title and came out on top in athletics, felling many SEA Games records, while Singapore were kings of the pool and Indonesia swept the badminton gold medals.
"If I am not mistaken coach said the goal was to reach the semi-finals," he added.
As well as headline events such as the Under-23 football, athletics, swimming and badminton, this year's Games will include a range of lesser-known sports, including the martial arts karatedo and Muay Thai.
"Anything less than the overall title will be a disappointment for us," General Yuthasak Sasiprapha, president of the National Olympic Committee of Thailand told the Bangkok Post recently. "We expect to win about 100 gold medals."
The football competition has already started and Thailand began the defence of their title with a disappointing 1-1 draw with Vietnam but followed up with a thumping 4-0 defeat of Cambodia.
Officials will be eager to keep the spotlight on performances after the 2007 edition in Korat, northeastern Thailand, was marred by accusations of unfair judging.
The most dramatic episode came in the boxing ring, when six Philippine fighters retired in a protest over the judging, which helped Thailand sweep all 10 boxing gold in the men's competition.
There were also accusations of favouritism in badminton, gymnastics and weightlifting.
Gymnastics does not feature in Vientiane in a slimmed-down programme, in which there are a total of 28 listed disciplines, down from the 40-plus in Thailand.
The Philippines are eager to improve on their poor outing in Korat two years ago in which the 2005 SEA Games winners took only 41 gold to be ranked sixth overall.
This time the country will be sending a leaner contingent.
"At the last SEA Games, we won 41 gold medals while sending 600 athletes," said Philippine Sports Commission chairman Harry Angping.
"The contingent has promised to win 64 gold medals but I'd be happy if the athletes could come up with just half of that. That would be 32 gold medals from 251 athletes."
The hosts themselves have set their sights on a successful Games, eyeing 25 gold out of nearly 400 at stake.
Aiman, Asher Khan and Muhaimin Awang won bronze in the junior team event in the last edition of the Borneo Games in Kuching two years ago.
Somsavat Lengsavad, Deputy Prime Minister of Laos and chairman of the organising committee, is confident athletes from the host nation will be inspired by the chance to perform in front of home crowds.
"It's too early to forecast how many gold medals we will win this time, but I'm sure our athletes will be inspired by competing on home soil," he said, according to The Nation newspaper.
"The team have trained hard for these Games and everyone is determined to make their mark. I believe our athletes will win more gold medals than we did at the previous Games two years ago, especially in wushu, petanque and karatedo."
At the last edition, Laos won five gold and 44 medals overall.
Somsavat said tickets for both the opening and closing ceremonies had already sold out as anticipation built in the country
Courtesy from Brunei Times