(STAR) By Gerry Carpio Ė The first wave of the 801-member Philippine contingent arrived here yesterday, two days before the opening of what the host considers the largest, most lavish ever Southeast Asian Games at the Nakhon Ratchasima track and field stadium 250 kilometers from here.

The 210 athletes and officials from 14 of the 43 sports flew in aboard two separate flights for the three-hour flight from Manila to Bangkok from where they were whisked to their official billeting venues in capital city of Bangkok, Pattaya in the south and Ratchasima in the northeastern part of Thailand for the 10-day sports meet among 11 Southeast Asian nations.

Of the 45 sports in the calendar, two are demonstration sports, 29 will take place in Ratchasima, six in Chon Buri, four in Bangkok, three in Pathum Thani and one in Samut Prakan.

While the Philippine delegation is coming here on a staggered schedule, most of the other athletes from other competing countries have been accounted for and are taking physical conditioning exercises in assigned training venues.

The other countries are former powerhouse Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, the troubled state of Myanmar and new independent nation Timor-Leste.

Ratchasima, a broad, flat land surrounded by mountains, has prepared elaborate opening ceremonies also in celebration of the 80th birthday of their King, His Royal Highness Bhumibol Adulyadej, in whose honor the newly constructed main hub at Ratchasima, also called Korat, has been named His Majesty the Kingís 80th Birthday Anniversary Stadium. It lies at the heart of this province of 150,000, four hours drive from Bangkok.

The Filipino shooters, who have been here since Nov. 26, completed their stint four days before the opening ceremonies with three silver and one bronze medals.

The football competitions, where the Philippines is fielding only a womenís entry following the absence of top Fil-foreign booters on the menís team drew with Laos the other day and need to hold its own against powerhouse Vietnam to make it to the semifinals.

The menís football hostilities, the most watched and considered the main event of the SEA Games, culminate right before the closing ceremonies at the Ratchasima main stadium on Dec. 14.

In the list of arrivals today are 1,149 officials and athletes in swimming, water polo, basketball, billiards and snooker, boxing, gymnastics, water polo, lawn tennis, beach volleyball, wushu, baseball, equestrian, futsal and squash.

Another 160 are planing in tomorrow in time for the opening ceremonies.

While the weather in Bangkok and the beach paradise of Pattaya on the Gulf of Thailand is in the normal range of 26-32 degrees Celsius, temperature in Ratchasima, where 26 sports will be held, had plunged to as low as 14 degrees Celsius.

The sepak takraw team of Gen. Mario Tanchanco arrived here Monday for competitions slated to start today at the Mall Nakhon Ratchasima.

Also seeing action are the RP cyclists in the track events at the velodrome, and the gymnasts at the indoor stadium.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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