(STAR) By Gerry Carpio T – Philippine Olympic Committee president Jose “Peping” Cojuangco said no country can beat Thailand for the overall supremacy in the 24th Southeast Asian Games because it is the 80th birthday of their king.

“There is no way the Thais can lose – they are going to win the overall title as a gift to their king,” said Cojuangco, who arrived here Tuesday night with the second wave of the 801-strong RP contingent, two days before the opening of the Games at the His Majesty the King’s 80th Birth Anniversary stadium.

Cojuangco said the Thai people hold their king in high esteem, celebrating his 80th birth anniversary in year-long festivities that started in January and ending yesterday, the date of his birth.

The Thais consider the 80th birthday as a great milestone in the life of a person. In nationwide ceremonies yesterday cannon balls boomed during early morning flag-raising ceremonies nationwide and, at night, millions of candles illuminated every street of Thailand, from the major cities to the smallest towns, to celebrate the birthday of the world’s longest-reigning monarch, who marked his 60th anniversary as king of Thailand last year.

The celebrations will go on until today’s opening ceremonies where the king will declare the Games open. The celebrations will be complete when Thailand gifts the king with the overall SEAG crown during the closing ceremonies Dec. 15.

The theme of the grand opening rites highlights the stirring moments of Thai history and culture. Some of the segments of the show, called Journey of SEA Games to Korat, present The Great King, Amazing I-san Wonders, Amazing Glorious Capital, Amazing Sports Ceremony, Amazing Royal Flame, Amazing Spirit, Amazing Friendship and Amazing Celebration all choreographed in a festival of light, sound and dance.

Thailand got off to a quick start in its title campaign by winning 14 gold medals in shooting. It was setting the pace at the start of the cycling and sepak takraw competitions yesterday.

Thailand has set a goal of 156 gold medals with a full complement of 1,400 competitors. It has always won by a big margin as host in 1985, 1995 and 1997.

The Philippines is looking for 80 gold medals but has yet to clinch one. It has won only three silvers and one bronze from its shooters.

Malaysia, with the second largest delegation (1,114), hopes to land 66 gold medals and has so far won 2-3-5 gold-silver-bronze medals from shooting.

Vietnam, the 2003 SEAG champion, is also off to a brisk start in its bid for 70 golds, placing third (7-3-5) behind Singapore (8-6-6).

Vietnam has sent 795 athletes and Singapore, a tiny but wealthy nation of two million, hopes to finish fourth overall with a 658-athletic delegation. Myanmar, still reeling from a political crisis, is even ahead of the Philippines with 2-2-1 tally after the shooting competitions in Bangkok.

Laos, hoping to make good when it hosts the 2007 SEA Games, is fielding 635, its largest ever since joining the Southeast Asian Peninsular Games (before it was renamed the SEA Games in 1977).

The other countries are Cambodia, Brunei Darussalam and new independent state Timor-Leste.

The games go full blast Dec. 7 in various venues in Nakhon Ratchasima, Chon Buri, Bangkok and neighboring provinces. Of the 43 sports in the calendar, 29 will be held here, with six to be played in Chon Buri, four in Bangkok, three in Prathum Thani and one in Samut Prakan.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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