Gold machine hummed, we won as one

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    Closing rites. Fireworks light up the sky as the Southeast Asian Games come to a close at the New Clark City in Capas, Tarlac.
    Closing rites. Fireworks light up the sky as the Southeast Asian Games come to a close at the New Clark City in Capas, Tarlac.

    HISTORIC and emphatic.

    These words best describe Team Philippines’ campaign in the 30th Southeast Asian Games that drew to a close last night at the New Clark City Athletics Stadium in Capas, Tarlac.

    The remaining athletes from the 11 member nations put behind them all the intense hostilities borne of competitions that went full blast last Dec. 1 and partied together in the mini-concert staged by multi-Grammy winning group Black Eyed Peas.

    Even before the Games flame was extinguished and the ex-combatants parted ways, there was this promise:  to meet again two years in Hanoi for the next edition of the biennial meet.

    On the homefront, there will be questions begging for answers, like whether the billions of pesos earmarked for the country’s preparations and hosting of the games really went to where they should go.

    Already, Malacanang, the Senate and Ombudsman have lined up separate investigations, all centered on Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee chair Allan Cayetano, the probes to include problems in accommodation, transportation and inappropriate meals that greeted the foreign delegations when they started coming in.

    There is also the nagging concern of how the facilities, specifically the Athletes Village and NCC, would not be turned into white elephtants since it would take an estimated P15 million a year for their maintenance costs.

    But those problems and other concerns that cropped up in the course of the games would have to be in the backburners for now.

    One thing is clear – there is no visible glitch within Team PHL as it set about its course plotted by the Philippine Sports Commission, which funded and prepared the close to 2,000 athletes in their campaign.

    The Philippine Olympic Committee must also take credit for lobbying and getting approval for the total 56 disciplines where the country’s bets had chances of winning.

    Of course, there were the coaches and athletes, all of their endeavors sticking true to the Games motto of “We Win As One.”

    And, boy, did that gold machine hum.

    Led by dancesports and arnis in the first two days the Filipinos immediately latched on to the top of the overall standings and remained firmly entrenched there. Then athletes in wushu, taekwondo, obstacle course race and skateboarding came up with the wins that sustained the irrepressible drive.

    When the smoke of battle cleared, Team PHL has amassed 149 gold, 117 silver and 120 bronze medals, the biggest haul for the country since it joined the meet in 1977 and way better than the haul of 113-85-93 it posted the first time it won the overall championship, also on home grounds, in 2005.

    Striking mostly in athletics, wrestling and swimming and after taking the lone remaining plum in beach handball yesterday morning, Vietnam managed to take second with 98 golds and hold off seven-time top nation Thailand, which wound up with 92.

    Indonesia, which has ruled the meet 10 times since coming in alongside the Philippines, could only content itself with 72 golds and fourth.

    Malaysia, which ruled the 2017 meet on home soil with 144 golds, could only muster 55 this time, with Singapore next on a 52 total.

    Of the 11 nations, only Timor Leste failed to bring home a gold, with Laos narrowly avoiding sharing that dubious distinction by winning one from kickboxing last Tuesday.

    By no means was it a total domination by the hosts as they failed to win in 10 disciplines: bowling, ice skating, ice hockey, indoor hockey, polo, table tennis, traditional boat race, underwater hockey, volleyball and water polo.

    But the Filipinos churned out victories in eSports, duathlon, skateboarding, jiujitsu, kickboxing, obstacle course race, kurash, modern pentathlon, sambo, skateboarding, surfing and wakeboarding, harvesting a total of 33 golds in those events’ maiden apparance in the games.

    The all-pro Gilas Pilipinas re-asserted the country’s might in men’s basketball, drubbing Thailand 115-81 in their final match late Tuesday to complete the Filipinos’ four-gold sweep of the event dearest to the country’s heart. It was the 19th men’s caging gold for the country in 21 stagings of the event.

    In the process, Kiefer Ravena copped his fifth games gold in all to forever be remembered as the winningest basketball player ever in the meet.

    Perhaps more special was the niche carved out by  the Gilas women, who earlier in the evening waylaid five-time champion Thailand 91-71 to end decades of frustration in the event dating back to 1977.

    There was also light-flyweight boxer Josie Gabuco, who at 32 years old won her fifth gold medal, the frst two coming when she fought as a pinweight in 2009 and 2011.

    Gymnast Carlos Yulo, the world champion in the floor exercise, won seven medals, two of them gold, while CJ Obiena, like Yulo set to compete in the Tokyo Olympics next year, set a new games record in the pole vault.

    The Blu Girls also contributed to the highlights of these Games by emphasizing their dominance of softball after emerging with their 10th title in all.

    The promise is there, as exemplified best by trackster Kristine Knott who marked her games debut by breaking the 200m record in her morning heats and evening finals en route to the gold.

    TRIBUTES POUR IN

    Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Armed Forces chief Gen. Noel Clement are due to due to pay tribute to over a hundred soldier-athletes for their successful participation in the games.

    AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said Lorenzana and Clement are hosting a thanksgiving dinner for 127 soldier-athletes who won 27 gold, 13 silver and eight bronze medals at Camp Aguinaldo.

    The thanksgiving dinner will be held on Dec. 19, two days after the celebration of the AFP’s 84th foundation anniversary. President Duterte is due to lead the anniversary rites at Camp Aguinaldo.

    “There are a lot for us to be thankful for (during our anniversary),” said Arevalo, citing the gains of the soldiers in the games. Arevalo said Clement has sent his congratulations to the soldier-athletes.

    “As a matter of fact, they have contributed 27 gold, 13 silver and eight bronze medals. On the 19th there will be a thanksgiving dinner for them,” Arevalo said.

    Arevalo said the soldier-athletes competed in arnis, boxing, baseball, athletics, cycling, muay thai, obstacle course, sailing, sepak takraw and shooting.

    ROMERO SAYS THANKS

    Deputy Speaker Mikee Romero, a member of the national polo team that competed in the games, thanked everyone who made the polo tournament possible.

    The Philippines and Indonesia shared the bronze.

    “Nagpapasalamat ang buong Pilipinas sa paglahok sa polo event na ito, maraming Salamat po! We win as one!” he said.

    Brunei won the gold medal after beating Malaysia 7-2 in polo’s 0-2 goals last Monday at the Miguel Romero Field in Calatagan, Batangas. – With Victor Reyes and Wendell Vigilia