Less than a month after wrapping up its hosting duties for the Southeast Asian Games, Indonesia is welcoming athletes back to its shores for the Asean Para Games.
Physically challenged athletes from the 10 Asean member nations — Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia — plus East Timor are facing off in the Games. And on the first day of competition, the host country came away with the first gold medal.
Indonesia served its way to a strong start on Thursday in Solo with a silver medal in tennis and a gold in badminton before the Games even officially opened.
Six hours before the opening ceremony, the men’s badminton team beat Malaysia 2-1 in the final at Sritex Arena.
Hari Susanto gave the hosts the first point with a 21-11, 21-6 defeat of Umar Bakri, but Malaysia leveled after an injured Suryo Nugroho retired in the second set against Cheah Like Hou.
Cheah won the first set 21-14 and was leading 13-11 in the second when Suryo was forced to quit with a foot injury.
Imam Kunantoro and Trihono secured the gold for Indonesia after beating Laiman Suhaili and Saaba Hairul Fozi, 21-13, 21-7, in the doubles match.
“We are very proud of this victory,” Trihono told state news agency Antara. “We knew from the start that we could go home with the gold medal.”
Indonesia’s women’s tennis team fell 3-0 to Thailand in the final and had to settle for silver.
Ida Yani fell to Chusri Intmanin 6-0, 6-1 in the first match and Thailand secured the gold after Sakhorn Khanthasit blanked Laili Yuntari 6-0, 6-0.
Ranata Techmaneewat and Janhom completed the rout with an easy 6-0, 6-0 defeat of Naila Savitri and Sriatun.
The opening ceremony was held at Manahan Stadium on Thursday night.
It wasn’t as extravagant as the Rp 150 billion ($16.5 million) SEA Games opener in Palembang, but the ceremony in Solo still aimed to impress. Choreographer Denny Malik was brought in to add flair to the ceremony, which was built around the theme Tetabuhan Gebyar Nusantara (Nusantara Percussion Extravaganza).
“First impressions are always important, and we want to show the world that Indonesia is capable of being a great host for international sporting events,” said James Tangkudung, chairman of the Games organizing committee, Inaspoc. “The opening ceremony was representative of Indonesia’s cultural richness.”
Vice President Boediono officially opened the Para Games after Sabar Gorky, a climber who has reached the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Mount Elbrus in Russia, lit the cauldron.
On Wednesday, the athletes paraded from Kota Barat to Solo City Hall and were impressed with the crowd’s reception.
“They are so enthusiastic and supportive, which made us smile the whole way,” East Timor coach Jerino Babun said.
A total of 1,296 athletes and officials are taking part in the sixth edition of the Games. They will compete for 419 gold medals in 11 sports — archery, athletics, badminton, bowling, chess, goalball, table tennis, tennis, swimming, volleyball and weightlifting.
The athletes are all physically challenged in some way. Some have impaired mobility or vision. Amputees and athletes with cerebral palsy are also competing.
In the 2009 Para Games in Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia finished fourth with 29 gold medals, 25 silver and 19 bronze. Thailand topped the medal tally, followed by Malaysia and Vietnam.
The Para Games will run until Dec. 22.
Additional reporting from Antara