SEAGames: Indonesian gold rush puts sport centre stage

JAKARTA, Nov 12, 2011 (AFP) - Indonesia struck gold on the first full day of competition at the Southeast Asian Games, with a flurry of first places providing a timely distraction from the chaotic run-up to the competition.

The hosts had bagged 22 golds by late Saturday, nearly half the total up for grabs after two days competition, giving them an impressive medal haul of 43.

The tally put them top among the 11 competing nations, ahead of second-placed Singapore, who after a strong showing in the pool had eight golds and 23 podium finishes overall.

AFP - Serafi Anelis Unani (R) of Indonesia races against Nongnuch Sanrat (C) of Thailand and Vu Thi Huong Vu of Vietnam (L) during the 100 meters women's final in the athletics competition of the 26th SEA Games on November 12, 2011.

Thailand were just behind in third but have so far disappointed after topping the Games in 2009.

Indonesia swept the showpiece 100 metres sprints held in the South Sumatran city of Palembang, which is co-hosting the 11-day competition with Jakarta, winning both the men's and women's races.

And they are eyeing more success on Sunday after the men's badminton team of Olympic doubles champions Markis Kido and Hendra Setiawan eased by Laos to make the semi-final.

Meanwhile the women's pair set up a hotly anticipated duel with Malaysia -- Indonesia's avowed rivals -- a match which is expected to bring out the crowds despite the early morning start.

The host's gold rush and a SEA Games record for Philippines long jump queen Marestella Torres, a day after a $17 million opening ceremony dazzled spectators, helped to lift the clouds that had gathered over the Games.

The lead-up to the competition was dominated by a graft scandal and a funding row between the government and Games organisers Inasoc, who nearly walked out a few weeks before the start.

Building delays in Palembang and the Cipule Lake venue outside Jakarta -- which forced Thursday's rowing qualifiers to be cancelled -- had threatened to overshadow the Games until the spectacular opening show swayed critics.

"It was a big relief after all the negative comments we have received," said Ratna Irsana Marhaendra, a director from Inasoc.

"It was a very good moment and hopefully we have put the problems behind us. As of today, everything is OK with the SEA Games."

Indonesians and visiting athletes have warmed to the $60 million Games since the opening ceremony which featured thousands of dancers and a breathtaking series of fireworks and laser shows.

"Now the world can see that we can do good things," said 19-year-old Games volunteer Eva Noviyanty. "I am so proud."

But tickets have not been as sought after as hoped, with sparse crowds watching football games not featuring Indonesia and rows of spare seats even for the badminton, the nation's top sport after football.

Local hero Franklin Ramses Burumi took gold in the headline men's 100 metre sprint in 10.37 seconds, while Serafi Anelies Unani squeezed by Thailand's Nongnuch Sanrat to steal the women's race.

Torres played her part in lighting up the first day of track and field breaking her own Southeast Asian games record to take gold with a leap of 6.71 metres.

In Jakarta, the day's only football match saw Vietnam demolish a hapless Brunei 8-0, scoring four within the first 15 minutes.

The win put Vietnam top of Group B after four games, while in-form Indonesia are leading Group A after scoring eight without reply in their two matches.

Brunei remain without a medal after two days of competition proper, alongside East Timor at the bottom of the table

Meanwhile Malaysia finally broke their gold duck after Nur Suryani overcame an upset stomach to win the women's 50 metre rifle shooting in Palembang.

Indonesia was awarded the Games in 2006, but the government has faced criticism for failing to release cash to Inasoc to build venues, causing an embarrassing delay to the athletes' village in Palembang.

In an echo of India's graft-hit Commonwealth Games last year, the ruling party's treasurer allegedly pocketed $3 million in bribes from a firm seeking tenders, and then fled to Colombia with the spoils.

The biennial Games are big news in Southeast Asia, capturing the imagination of the competing nations, with dozens of gold medals and regional sporting supremacy at stake.

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