The 31st Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) in Hanoi, Vietnam marked the much-welcomed resumption of highly-profiled sporting activities on a regional scale since the onset of COVID-19 two years ago.
Sports have been adversely impacted by the pandemic, with leading athletes in the region not able to perform competitively due to the multiple postponements and cancellations all over the world.
With high vaccination rates and air travel opening up across the region, going ahead with the SEA Games as scheduled was seen as a relief for the region, especially as athletes have been preparing intensively.
The event was supposed to be held late last year but a surge of COVID-19 infections in multiple provinces hindered preparations, which ultimately led to the revision of dates.
The emergence of the highly-transmissible Omicron variant late last November proved a global concern earlier this year, but the severity of the situation has lessened, as is highlighted by many countries introducing favourable conditions to travel.
In March 2022, the hosting of the SEA Games was handed a significant boost when Vietnam announced an end to quarantine for international travellers, which was in tandem with other countries in the region.
The lifting of the quarantine order enabled athletes to better finalise last-minute preparations and familiarise the competition venue ahead of their official matches.
The 31st SEA Games proceeded to open with much fanfare and saw the return of spectators, as the stadium was adorned with colourful effects and lively performances.
The multi-sport meet also marked the competitive return of four more sports in the regional or international area, namely wushu, karate, pencak silat and e-sports.
Following success at the 30th SEA Games, wushu and pencak silat associations from Brunei Darussalam had planned to join world championships and further test their athletes’ abilities.
However, the pandemic struck and their competitions were limited virtually, offering a very different environment as opposed to a physical meet.
Despite a challenging two years given the absence of real competition, Brunei Darussalam’s wushu team led by top talent Mohammad Adi Salihin bin Roslan grabbed the gold medal in the men’s nanquan event, which marked the first time the country had enjoyed a gold medal in consecutive SEA Games.
After relinquishing his nandao title the day before, the wushu star bounced back in remarkable fashion to win gold after posting a score of 9.71 points, fending off competition from Indonesia’s Harris Horatius and Vietnam’s Nong Van Huu.
The win not only ensured Mohammad Adi Salihin’s place as the most decorated wushu athlete at the SEA Games with two gold medals, but also cemented his status as one of the country’s greatest sportspersons.
The success of the medallists – including Anisah Najihah binti Abdullah, Norleyermah binti Haji Raya and Nor Wasqiah binti Rosihan who won silver in the artistic team event and Muhammad Ali Saifullah bin Abdullah Md Suhaimi who won bronze in the men’s singles artistic event – was a testament of their labour and sacrifices during three months of intensive training at the Sports Village of the Hassanal Bolkiah National Sports Complex.
The national athletes trained most of the time, especially during the month of Ramadhan, in their quest to bring back glory and repeat the scenes from the previous edition in Manila when both wushu and pencak silat contributed with medals.
While newcomers Anisah Najihah and karate exponent Mohd Sufizan bin Mohd Sofian bagged medals in their maiden SEA Games appearance in Manila in 2019, the Hanoi edition will be remembered for the breakthrough of Muhammad Ali Saifullah, who also made his debut.
The fresh-faced teenager, who only took up the sport actively in 2017, stunned defending champion Philippines’ Edmar Tacuel in the elimination round to guarantee at least a bronze medal.
Despite bringing the lowest number of athletes with 23, Brunei was able to deliver an overall haul of three medals – one gold, one silver and one bronze.