History of the SEA Games - an interactive guide

Conceived as a way to forge strong ties between the nations of South-east Asia, the SEA Games had humble beginnings in 1959. It has since grown to become the biggest multi-sport spectacle of the region. The Straits Times takes you through a history of the biennial event, including a definitive guide on Singapore’s medal haul from the beginning, and the who’s who of both local and foreign stars of the Games.
Scroll down to explore the medal tally graphic.
Team Singapore’s medals at the Games from 1959 to 2013
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Thailand and Indonesia are the region’s bigwigs when it comes to the SEA Games. The Thais, who traditionally perform in sports like athletics and boxing, have amassed 1,991 golds since the beginning of the Games. The Indonesians, who are world­class in badminton, have 1,669 golds.
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Swimming has always been one of Singapore’s strong suits at the SEA Games. The Republic also excelled in sports such as athletics and squash in the earlier years. More recently, however, others such as table tennis, shooting and bowling have helped to add to the medal haul.

IT WAS the stage that launched the careers of the region’s sporting greats – from Malaysia’s sprint king and four-time Asian Games champion Mani Jegathesan to Indonesian badminton legend Susi Susanti, the first South-east Asian to win an Olympic gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

Yet the biennial sporting meet – the brainchild of former Thailand Olympic Committee vice-president Luang Sukhum Nayaoradit – was a much humbler affair when founding members Thailand, Burma (now Myanmar), Malaya (Malaysia), Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia agreed to stage the first South-east Asian Peninsular (Seap) Games in 1959.

Over 700 athletes and officials gathered in Bangkok for six days and competed in 12 sports (athletics, aquatics, badminton, basketball, boxing, cycling, football, shooting, table tennis, tennis, volleyball and weightlifting).

School teacher Tan Eng Yoon etched his name into the history books as Singapore’s first gold medallist when he won the 400m hurdles.

It was the greatest event of his life, Tan, who died in 2010, told The Straits Times years later.

While the Games was created to enhance regional cooperation, its future was threatened briefly by politics and the emergence of the short-lived Indonesia-backed Games of the New Emerging Forces (Ganefo).

This led to the 1963 Games being cancelled before the Games was restarted with the 1965 edition in Kuala Lumpur. By 1977, the Seap Federation included Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines.

The competition was renamed the South-east Asian (SEA) Games and took the number of nations to 10 with only East Timor absent – the island nation joined from the 2003 edition onwards.

As the Games grew in scale, so has the standard of competitors involved, mirroring the rise of Asean.

At the 1983 Games here, Singapore swimmer Junie Sng became the first Asian woman to break the nine-minute barrier for the 800m while bowlers Henry Tan, Ronnie Ng and S.Y. Loh broke the world record in the trios with 3,620 pinfalls.

New Asian standards were also reached in shooting (Vietnam’s Dang Thi Dong rewrote the Asian record in the women’s standard rifle prone competition at the 1991 Manila Games) and athletics (Philippine sprinter Lydia de Vega set a new benchmark in the women’s 200m in 1993).

Moreover, the Games has also served as a springboard onto greater success for many athletes.

Weightlifter Tan Howe Liang was a gold medallist at the first Seap Games in 1959 and a year later, he became Singapore’s first Olympic medallist in Rome.

Thai featherweight boxer Somluck Kamsing built on his victory at the 1995 Chiangmai Games, telling a television reporter years later that he believed it was his destiny to become Thailand’s first Olympic champion.

He did so at the 1996 Atlanta Games, defeating Bulgarian world champion Serafim Todorov in the final.

Singapore’s best at the SEA Games
Patricia Chan
1965 - 1973 SEAP Games
39 Golds

The original “Golden Girl”, and rightly so. Chan competed in five editions of the regional Games (when it was still called the South-east Asian Peninsular Games) and won 39 medals - all of them gold. The five-time Sportswoman of the Year won 10 gold medals at a single Games - twice - at the 1967 and 1969 Games.

Junie Sng
1975 SEAP Games - 1983 SEA Games
28 Golds 6 Silvers 1 Bronzes

Made her debut at the 1975 Games at the age of 11. Sng competed in just five Games, but went out at her peak, winning 10 golds at home in 1983. She was also Singapore’s first woman to win a swimming gold at the Asian Games, smashing two Asian records at age 14 en route to top place in the 400m and 800m freestyle events.

Joscelin Yeo
1991 - 2005 SEA Games
40 Golds 15 Silvers 7 Bronzes

Known simply as “Jos” to Singaporeans, Yeo is both the country’s and the region’s most successful swimmer. Her career spanned 17 years, and saw her competing in five Asian, three Commonwealth and four Olympic Games. She now serves as the Singapore Swimming Association’s vice-president of swimming.

C Kunalan
1965 SEAP Games - 1977 SEA Games
4 Golds 7 Silvers 3 Bronzes

As Singapore’s track legend, Kunalan did what no other Singapore men has done since - win the blue ri-band 100m sprint and the 200m event, and in the same year at that. He did this in 1969 when the SEAP Games were held in what was then-Burma. He also competed at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, clocking 10.38s in the 100m in what would be a national record for more than three decades.

Li Jiawei
Table Tennis
1999 - 2007 SEA Games
13 Golds 3 Silvers 2 Bronzes

For much of the 2000s, Li was the face of Singapore table tennis. She won the women’s singles event for three consecutive SEA Games, and also led the women’s team to several team titles. A year after she played her last SEA Games in 2007, Li played at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and was part of the team that won a silver, Singapore’s first Olympic medal in 48 years.

Tan Howe Liang
1959 - 1967 SEAP Games
2 Golds 2 Silvers

He is known more for his silver medal at the Olympics - Singapore’s first medal and for 48 years, only one. But it was on the South-east Asian stage where he first triumphed, winning a gold in the lightweight category at the first Games in 1959.

James Wong
1987 - 2013 SEA Games
10 Golds 4 Silvers 2 Bronzes

The undisputed kingpin of discus throwing in South-east Asia. Wong won nine golds in discus and one gold in hammer throw, missing the 2007 Games after retiring. But he came out of retirement to win at the 2009 and 2011 Games. His mark of 59.87m, set in 1999, is still the national record.

Grace Young
1987 - 1995 SEA Games
7 Golds 2 Silvers 4 Bronzes

Young was the face of Singapore bowling from the mid 1980s to the late 1990s, competing in five SEA Games. She was also the one who was given the honour of lighting the Games flame when Singapore last hosted the SEA Games in 1993. On the greater global stage, she won two bronzes at the 1994 and 1998 Asian Games and finished fourth at the 1993 AMF World Cup. She was forced to retire after the 1998 Asiad due to a potentially crippling tendinitis injury in her fingers.

Lee Wung Yew
1987 - 2007 SEA Games
15 Golds 2 Silvers 2 Bronzes

Over three decades, Lee appeared in 11 SEA Games, six Asian Games - he won a bronze in the men’s double trap event in 1998) and three Olympics. The two-time Sportsman of the Year winner, who is an avid triathlete, continued to give back to sports and even took on the role of chef de mission at the 2009 Asian Youth Games.

Wong Shoon Keat
1983 SEA Games
1 Gold 1 Bronze

Going by sheer numbers, Wong has far fewer SEA Games medals than many other athletes. But his gold from the 1983 is definitely worth its weight - more than 30 years on, it is still Singapore’s only title from the badminton men’s singles event. That year, he pulled off a shock upset over reigning world champion Icuk Sugiarto of Indonesia, and beat another Indonesian star, Hastomo Arbi in the final. His son, Derek, is currently Singapore’s top male shuttler.

Weightlifter Tan Howe Liang was a gold medallist at the first Seap Games in 1959 and a year later, he became Singapore’s first Olympic medallist in Rome.

Thai featherweight boxer Somluck Kamsing built on his victory at the 1995 Chiangmai Games, telling a television reporter years later that he believed it was his destiny to become Thailand’s first Olympic champion.

He did so at the 1996 Atlanta Games, defeating Bulgarian world champion Serafim Todorov in the final.

Indonesia’s dominance on the badminton court from the late 1970s – they won 50 SEA Games golds between 1977 and 1997 – culminated in a golden haul at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona where they won five medals, including gold in the men and women’s singles.

This June 5-16 Games will welcome more than 7,000 athletes and officials. Among them will be some of sport’s elite performers including badminton icon Lee Chong Wei, Asian Games long jump champion Maria Natalia Londa from Indonesia, Malaysian diver and bronze medallist at the 2012 London Olympics Pandelela Rinong as well as local stars such as Commonwealth Games silver medallist swimmer Joseph Schooling and world No. 4 table tennis player Feng Tianwei.

Most of the sports offered are on the Olympic programme but in keeping with the rich cultural diversity of the region, several niche events like pencak silat, sepak takraw and dragon boating also feature heavily.

While it has been called “The Friendship Games”, age-old rivalries among nations and a chance to secure bragging rights ensures the Games remains fiercely contested.

This competitiveness has in fact led to one of the long-standing criticism of it as host countries, given discretion to pick some sports and keen to increase their own medal haul, have taken advantage of this power to select events that favour them.

This has led to the sometimes one-off inclusion of non-mainstream sports like paragliding, shuttlecock-kicking and fin swimming.

Thailand, who has hosted the Games a record six times from 27 Seap and SEA Games, are the most successful nation with 1,992 golds, ahead of Indonesia (1,669) and Malaysia (1,041).

A total of 402 gold medals from 36 sports will be offered at the latest instalment.

And as it has in the past, the 28th Games will offer a stage for medals to be won, records to be set and stars to be born.

foreign Sea Games Stars
Susi Susanti
1987 - 1995 SEA Games
8 Golds 1 Silver

Despite her lack of height, she combined explosive movement with elegant shotmaking and was one of the most successful players in the history of the women's game. She and her teammate (and future husband) Alan Budikusuma became Indonesia’s first Olympic gold medallists, winning the men’s and women’s singles event at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

Mani Jegathesan
1959 - 1965 SEAP Games
7 Golds 2 Silvers

In his heyday, he was regarded as the fastest man in Asia and backed up that claim by winning three gold medals at the 1966 Bangkok Asian Games. Now a renowned doctor, he also competed in three Olympics, making the semi-finals of the 200m twice (1964 & 1968).

Lydia de Vega
1981 - 1993 SEA Games
9 Golds 8 Silvers

The region’s pin-up girl of track was a hugely popular figure, thanks to her megawatt smile and stunning accomplishments. She also bagged two Asian Games golds in the 100m and her time of 11.28sec set at the 1987 Jakarta SEA Games remains a Games record.

Kiatisuk Senamuang
1993 - 1999 SEA Games
4 Golds

Nicknamed “Zico” by his countrymen, the former striker starred in Thailand’s four consecutive SEA Games titles in the 1990s before he took over the reins as head coach of the national team and guided them to another victory in the 2013 edition.

Jennifer Tin Lay
1967 SEAP Games - 1983 SEA Games
16 Golds

She won nine shot put golds and six in discus across three decades and is tied with Filipino long jump and sprint queen Elma-Muros Posadas as the Games’ most successful track and field star. The sporting icon also won a gold medal with the women’s volleyball team at the 1969 Games in Burma.

Efren Reyes
1987 - 2013 SEA Games
3 Golds 1 Silver 3 Bronzes

The Filipino legend is hailed as one of the greatest pool players in the history of the sport. He has won over 70 international titles, including multiple world championships, in a career that has spanned more than 50 years.