SEPANG: Cheers accompanied by applause greeted the national para contingent at the Terminal 1 of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) as they made their triumphant return from the 2023 ASEAN Para Games today.

The welcome home crowd was led by the prime minister’s wife, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh, along with the families of the athletes.

As soon as they stepped out of the arrival hall at around 5 pm, they were greeted by both Dr Wan Azizah and Hannah, who presented every athlete with a bouquet of flowers as they disembarked from their flights, MH755 and MH7207 from Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Dr Wan Azizah told Bernama at the reception that she and all Malaysians were proud of what the athletes achieved at the Games, returning with a medal haul that was nearly double the initial target.

“This contingent has given us almost double the targeted medals, just imagine they are all ‘kelainan upaya’ and I’m proud to welcome them,” she said, as she flashed a thumbs-up sign to the athletes gathered there.

Out of the 144-athlete-strong contingent, 62 made their debut at the Games, but that did not stop them from bringing home an impressive 50 gold, 38 silver and 34 bronze medals, finishing fourth overall in the medal tally.

The Paralympic Council of Malaysia had set a target of 33 gold, 51 silver and 58 bronze compared to the 36 gold, 20 silver and 14 bronze won in the previous Games in Solo, Indonesia.

Indonesia defended its overall champion title with 159 gold, 148 silver and 94 bronze at APG 2023, its fourth win following Solo 2022, Myanmar 2013 and Kuala Lumpur 2017.

Thailand will host the 13th edition of the Games in 2026, having finished second with a tally of 126-110-92, followed by Vietnam (66-58-77) in this year’s Games. -BERNAMA