#Throwback: A Look Back At The 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games

We were standing in the eyes of the world!

  • Wednesday, 4 April 2018
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#Throwback: A Look Back At The 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games

Let the games begin!

The Commonwealth Games is back, and this time, it’s taking place in Gold Coast, Australia from 4 to 15 of April.

This year, games will involve more than 6,600 athletes and team officials from 70 Commonwealth nations and territories. The event cities will be Gold Coast, Brisbane, Cairns and Townsville.

Going down under.
With the 2018 Games officially starting on Wednesday (4 April), we reminisce about the time Malaysia hosted the games; the pomp and pizazz that came with it.

The Commonwealth Games of 1998 was a spectacle, as it was our nation’s first ever foray into hosting a world sporting event of this magnitude.

20 years later, we recollect our favourite memories of the Sukan Komanwel XVI Kuala Lumpur in 1998!

1) The numbers

Putting on a show.
To jog your memory, the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games was held from 11 to 21 September 1998. However, some events began earlier, on 7 September.

At that time, we hosted the second biggest sporting event in the world, housing 3,638 athletes from 69 Commonwealth member nations and territories. The games featured 15 sports which encompassed 214 events.

2) Many, many firsts

It was when Chua Boon Huat made his debut.
Officially known as the XVI Commonwealth Games, Malaysia was not only the first Asian country to host the games, we were also the first host nation with a head of state other than the Head of the Commonwealth. 

In fact, Malaysia was the first host nation that did not have English as its official language. The '98 Games was also the first that had team sports! Cricket, field hockey, netball and Rugby Sevens were played for the first time at the Commonwealth Games on Malaysian soil.

To top that off, we were the first nation to introduce the colour yellow to the logo of the games, as all previous logos had been red, white and blue to reflect the colours of the British Union flag.

Quite a feat for a country only four decades into her independence at the time! 

4) Wira and the Bunga Raya logo

The yellow in the logo was a first.
Remember that cute orang utan that was plastered everywhere during the games? The official mascot for the games was named Wira. According to officials, an orang utan was chosen as a mascot due to its natural habitat in the rainforests of Malaysia, something Malaysians can boast about.

Also, the personification of Wira as a loveable, friendly orang-utan was to represent the personality of Malaysia as the Games' host, and a sign of good sportsmanship.

Our logo, meanwhile, was a clever take on our national flower which was designed to incorporate the abbreviation 'CG ’98'. The yellow pollen on the hibiscus flower represented the six regions of the world, which include the 68 Commonwealth member nations at the time.

4) The Opening Ceremony

Representing Malaysia.
The stage was set. Bukit Jalil stadium was just renovated a few months earlier and Malaysia was now ready to host the opening ceremony of the biggest sporting event hosted on its soil.

We were all cheering when the Malaysian contingent finally marched past our screens, trying to identify the athletes and gushing about the attire chosen for them.

The viewers were then treated to a range of traditional dances, replete with beautiful formations and performances by our local artists. A whopping 7,000 people performed that day, another first for our nation. 

5) Traditions – old and new

Malaysians coming out in force.
A tradition of the Commonwealth Games was the Queen’s Baton. This baton contains the Queen’s message, and it was relayed throughout the participating nations, only to be finally brought to the host nation during the opening ceremony, where Her Majesty’s message will be read.

The baton was actually brought into Bukit Jalil stadium on an elephant! The baton was then passed on to the 1978 Commonwealth Games badminton gold medal winner Sylvia Ng, who handed it over to Koh Eng Tong, a weightlifter who won a gold medal in weightlifting for Malaya in the 1950 British Empire Games, and he then passed it on to Prince Edward.

It was a proud moment for Malaysians everywhere when for the first time, the Games was officiated by the host nation’s Head of State. Our Yang di-Pertuan Agong at the time, Alamrhum Tuanku Jaafar Ibni Almarhum Tuanku Abdul Rahman, officiated the Games by striking the gong thrice to a thunderous applause and a bewitching pyrotechnic display. 

6) Standing in the eyes of the world

"Keazaman membara di jiwa..."
One of the biggest highlights of the 1998 Commonwealth Games was the theme song of the Games, "Standing In The Eyes Of The World".

Ella’s raspy voice haunts and empowers us at the same time, even when we listen to it today. The lyrics to the song have stayed on our mind all this while and will stay on for another twenty years, burning an ardentflame into our soul, reminding us that if we put our minds to it, we will succeed as a nation.

It is one of those few songs that resonate with Malaysians from all walks of life, and it is probably the most special gift bestowed upon us from the Games.

7) A fantastic medal haul

Gold for days!
In the 1998 Games, Malaysia came in fourth in the medal tally, after Australia, England and Canada. Not bad, huh?

We made the most of our home ground advantage with many Malaysians making their way to watch and support our athletes at the Games. Our athletes revelled in it all, and it showed on the medal tally.

We bagged a whopping 36 medals in total; 10 gold, 14 silver and 12 bronze.

8) Badminton led the way

Malaysian dominance.
What is Malaysia’s national sport? Well, it should be badminton!

Who can forget the all-Malaysian final in the men’s singles event at the Games, a face-off between Wong Choon Hann and Yong Hock Kin? Wong Choon Hann, a household name at the time (still is), clinched the gold medal with the score of 10-15, 15–12, 15–6.

We also won gold and silver in the men’s doubles event. It was a time to rejoice and celebrate for all of us Malaysians who were probably over-the-gate or over-the-fence badminton players at some point.

9) The rise of Shalin

Making a name for herself.
It was also during these games that our national bowler Shalin Zulkifli rose to fame. She had already won the National Sportswoman Award in the two preceding years, and she was given a special task for these Games.

Shalin, who was only 20 at the time, was chosen to read out the Games pledge at the opening ceremony. In the bowling lanes, Shalin didn’t disappoint and together with partner Lai Kin Ngoh, she brought home a silver medal in the ten-pin bowling women’s doubles event.

Fast forward 20 years, Shalin is still making Malaysia proud! She clinched three gold medals at the SEA games held here last year. You might just bump into this entrepreneurial kegler if while you’re trying to score a strike at her bowling alley in Mutiara Damansara!

10) The gymnasts who stunned the nation

Showing off the gold.
One of our most memorable moments was perhaps when our young rhythmic gymnast team secured a gold medal, stunning the nation.

The quartet that took home the gold medal for women’s rhythmic all round team event comprised of Carolyn Au-Yong, Chee Kiat Thye, El Regina Tajudin and Sarina Sundara Rajah.

The entire Putra Indoor Stadium (now known as Axiata Arena), along with our nation’s prime minister who was there to support the gymnasts, jumped for joy when it was announced that our girls were the victors of that event.
We have a world class stadium now.The aftermath of the 1998 Commonwealth Games? Plenty! Not only did it put Malaysia on the international front when it came to sports, the Games also boosted our athlete’s confidence.

We surpassed our incredible 1998 medal haul at the 2010 Commonwealth Games held in Delhi, a testament of valour and determination of our athletes. The Games Village is now a beautiful condominium. 

We also acquired a new and improved Bukit Jalil National Stadium, the largest stadium in South East Asia and the 9th largest football stadium in the world, in which we have since hosted a variety of entertainment and sporting events. 
The best gift of all? The feather in our cap; that, as a nation, we pulled it off successfully.

Engkau terunggul, wajar standing in the eyes of the world” is absolutely right.

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