The dark horse of Rio.

  25 August 2016 06:29 - Before the 2016 Rio Olympics, Southeast Asia wasn’t well known for its Olympic success. In fact, three of the most populous countries had never even brought home a gold as of the 2012 Olympics, including the Philippines, Vietnam, and Myanmar. For a broader perspective of Southeast Asia’s representation at the Olympics, here’s this fact: four of the eleven countries in the region have still not made it to the podium, including Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, and Timor-Leste. But 2016 was a better year for the tropical countries.

Back in London in 2012, not a single Southeast Asian country brought home a gold. That changed this August as a grand total of 28 medals were brought back to the tropics, including five gold, 10 silvers and three bronze. That’s almost double the previous best performance, which was at the 2004 Athens Games, with four golds, two silvers and six bronzes.

All in all, some events are overall better performing for the region, including badminton, boxing and weightlifting. Thailand and Indonesia are tied as the region's best performers, having taken home 30 medals each since 1928, followed by Malaysia with 11 medals, the Philippines with 10, Singapore winning 5 medals, and Vietnam taking home 4 medals.

In addition to Singaporean legend Joseph Schooling, who beat his hero American swimmer Michael Phelps at the 100 metre butterfly with a record time of 50.39 seconds, there were several other memorable Olympians in Rio.

Sopita Tanasan and Sukanya Srisurat both won gold in weightlifting, with Tanasan lifting a combined 200kg to win the women’s 48kg even on the first day of the games. And just two days later, Srisurat set an Olympic record of 110kg in the snatch before lifting 130kg in the clean and jerk. Pretty solid achievement for just being 21 years of age. Better yet, she dedicated the medal to the king, telling reporters “That is the Thai way.”

And there was a serious bang for Vietnam, Hoang Xuan Vinh secured his country’s first Olympic gold medal at the air pistol event. And the 41-year old doubled his success when he doubled his country’s Olympic medal haul by winning silver in the 50 metre pistol competition.

The surprising wins of Southeast Asian athletes may be explained with the noted absence of some of 2012’s best weightlifters, who were absent from Rio due to doping allegations. This includes athletes from Russia and Bulgaria. As a comparison, Southeast Asian countries nabbed two silvers and two bronzes in 2012 in the weightlifting category while in 2016 they managed to win two golds, four silvers and a bronze.

Whatever the reason, the presence of awe-inspiring Olympics from Southeast Asia was undeniable in Rio. Let's hope that this is just the start. 



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