Hong Kong's athletes won glowing praise last night for exceeding the wildest expectations as the hosts celebrated the successful staging of their first ever major games. A record haul of 26 gold medals, 31 silver and 53 bronze gave Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and other officials plenty to smile about at last night's closing ceremony at the Hong Kong Coliseum. Featuring a Games record 22 sports, the fifth East Asian Games cost tax payers HK$1.6 billion. Officials admitted it would be difficult to judge whether every cent was worthwhile, but said the 12-day extravaganza had increased the awareness of sports in society. 'We have witnessed the combined efforts of the sports community and the government to put on a great games in Hong Kong and for those who spent money to buy tickets they have been rewarded with competition and top-class performances,' Hong Kong Olympic Committee honorary secretary Pang Chung said. 'I also congratulate Hong Kong's athletes for their outstanding achievements. Their marvellous results have come as a big surprise.' The hosts finished fourth in the medals table, behind China who captured 113 golds, Japan (62) and South Korea (39). At the last Games, in Macau four years ago, Hong Kong could manage only two golds, two silver and nine bronze medals when they finished third last out of the nine competing countries/regions. Hong Kong had won only seven gold medals in all four previous Games. 'The result shows our sports have made great improvements over the past four years, but it is also because we had home-ground advantage,' Pang said. 'Most of all, we have enjoyed many technical advantages which have bolstered our medal count.' The support of home fans was graphically illustrated when thousands of fans emerged to fill Hong Kong Stadium and will the home team to a penalty shoot-out victory over Japan in the soccer final. 'Every time a Japan player came to take his penalty, he was jeered by the 32,000-strong crowd and this obviously shook their confidence,' Football Association chairman Brian Leung Hung-tak said. Of the 'technical advantages', the most obvious was the introduction of six sports to boost Hong Kong's medal hopes. And it worked out as planned with 18 gold medals won in these new sports - seven in squash, three in windsurfing, with cycling claiming three, table tennis (two), cue sports (two) and badminton (one). The design of the cycling road-race route to suit Hong Kong riders, the home waters in Stanley for windsurfers and the familiar environment for the athletes all contributed to the success. However, Hong Kong will lose many of these advantages when they take part in the next Games in Tianjin in four years. There will be 20 sports on that roster, but missing will be squash and windsurfing. Fortunately, cycling, table tennis, cue sports and badminton will remain on the programme. 'Medals are important and without the two major medal-winning sports, it will affect our results,' Pang said. 'But, at the same time, it will also lessen the pressure to try to achieve a similar result.' There were many great moments over the 12 days of competition. The victory of the women's table tennis team over 'Big Sister' China, the breakthrough in team sport with significant results in football (gold), men's rugby sevens (silver) and men's hockey (bronze) are important milestones in Hong Kong sport. 'But we must keep up the good work or we will waste the efforts we have made on making the Hong Kong East Asian Games a great success,' Pang said.