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Indonesia rakes in the gold at the Southeast Asian Games

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Achmad Ibrahim/AP

(Read caption) Fireworks explode during the closing ceremony of the 26th Southeast Asian Games in Palembang, South Sumatra, Indonesia, last week.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent. 

Indonesia glowed with gold as it captured the top of the medals tally at the 26th Southeast Asian Games, beating out Thailand, the third week in November. The biennial event brings together the 11 countries of Southeast Asia and includes competitions ranging from swimming to badminton to wushu – a full-contact variation of a traditional Chinese martial art.

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Indonesia had hoped the event would highlight its increasingly powerful role in the region, but a scandal involving rigged bids for the construction of athletes’ dormitories and poor planning that threatened to delay some events drew criticism from visiting officials.

Despite its increasing economic heft, Indonesia hasn’t topped the medals table since it last hosted the games in 1997, during the reign of autocratic President Suharto

The games themselves were not without incident. Rowdy Indonesian soccer fans barraged the Malaysian soccer team during its semifinal match to the extent that its coaches called for an armored vehicle escort into the stadium for the gold-medal match against Indonesia. Malaysia won on a penalty shot. 

But neither archrivals nor scandals could dim the light of this emerging nation at the end of the games. Indonesia finished the week-long competition with more than 182 gold medals.