The 13th Asian Games ended on a jarring note of commercialism last night when, for the first time at a major multi-sport event, an award was given to the Most Valuable Performer.
Japanese sprinter Koji Ito, a triple gold-medallist, was named MVP of the Asian Games. He was given a cheque for US$100,000, which ostensibly goes to the Japanese National Olympic Committee.
So as the Asian Games flame was extinguished at the Rajamangala Stadium, the spark of commercialism was also lit.
The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) espouses an amateur ethos. But yesterday's move to choose an MVP - not even the Olympic Games does this - goes against their fundamental tenet.
Ito, who won the men's 100 metres, 200 metres and 4 ? 100 metres relay golds, was the natural choice of the reporters asked to pick the MVP.
Along with the cheque, Ito was handed a trophy by the president of the OCA, Sheik Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, who also officially handed over the OCA flag to the Mayor of Pusan, which hosts the next Asian Games in 2002.
In his brief report, Al-Sabah touched on the high level of competition reached during the Games.
'A total of 14 world records and 59 Asian records were broken. Twenty three NOCs won gold. We are proud of all you athletes,' he said.
A colourful, 2.5-hour ceremony began with traditional dancing and folk songs. It was capped by fireworks.
In another break from tradition, athletes did not march into the stadium following their NOC's flag. Rather, the march past was done according to the 36 sports. Following placards from archery to yachting, small numbers of athletes marched past the Royal box where Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn and his two daughters sat.
Very few Hong Kong athletes took part. Many, among them windsurfing heroine Lee Lai-shan and snooker ace Marco Fu ka-chun, had already returned home.
However, the SAR flag was proudly carried by wushu gold medallist Ng Siu-ching, the only SAR athlete seen prominently - apart from officials Pang Chung, Con Conway and Karl Kwok, who were seen walking right at the end, behind the yachting placard.
'Our hearts will remain in Bangkok, but our eyes are focused to Pusan,' said Al-Sabah in closing.
The show must go on - MVP and all.
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