AFTER coming up with an opening ceremony to remember, the Philippines plunged into serious action in the 30th Southeast Asian Games on Sunday and bagged 20 gold medals to set in motion its bid to reclaim the title as the region’s sporting giant.
Triathletes John Chicano and Kim Mangrobang swept the first two gold medals disputed for the day in Subic, opening the floodgates for the Filipino surge highlighted by winning 10 of the first 11 events disputed in dancesports at the Royce Hotel Ballroom in Pampanga.
As of 8:30 p.m. Monday, Filipino athletes show the way in the medal quest, with former overall champion Vietnam a far second with only four gold medals, followed by Singapore and traditional powerhouses Thailand and Malaysia.
Filipino arnis warriors made a grand return to the games after the sport’s absence for 14 years by winning the first four events at the Angeles University Foundation in Angeles while sepak takraw also had a twin kill.
Wushu and gymnastics also delivered through Agatha Wong and world floor exercise champion Carlos Yulo, giving Team Philippines the lion’s share of the gold medals staked on the first day of action, more than easing the pain of some losses.
With its early haul, Team Philippines looked all set to surpass its harvest in the 2017 Malaysia edition of the meet, a paltry 24 gold medals, the country’s worst finish since first taking part in 1977 that capped a steady decline in the Filipinos’ gold production since emerging as overall champion as third-time host with 113 victories in 2005.
Philippine sports officials are hoping the country would once again top the field, expecting Pinoy athletes to win more than 100 gold medals from 530 events being disputed in 56 sports disciplines.
Chicano made sure the country’s bets got off on the right foot on the first day of action, towing teammate Kim Remolino for a 1-2 Philippine finish in the men’s triathlon at the Subic Baywalk course in Subic.
The Olongapo-born athlete proved that third time’s a charm by lacing his victory with a personal best and record-breaking time of one minute and 53.26 seconds, topping the old mark of 1:59 30 set by Nikko Huelgas when he won his second straight men’s triathlon title two years ago in Malaysia.
Chicano failed to win a medal in his initial SEA Games foray in 2015 and finished second behind Huelgas in 2017.
A couple of hours later, Mangrobang made it a sweet sweep by ruling the women’s side of the exhausting swim-bike-run event. Teammate Kim Kilgroe completed the country’s second 1-2 finish for the day by landing the silver.
Stirring performances by the dancing duo of Ana Manalo Nualla and Sean Mischa Aranar resulted in a 10-gold rush from the Tango, Viennese Waltz and Open Standard categories of dancesports before the tandem of Willie Aunzo and Pearl Marie Caneda followed suit with victories in Salsa, Cha Cha and Rumba.
The pair of Mark Jayson Gayon and Mary Joy Renigen actually gave the Philippines its first taste of gold in the competition by topping the Waltz category before narrowly edging Singapore in Foxtrot. The two, however, could only settle for the silver in Quickstep behind Vietnam.
Not to be outdone, Michael Angelo Marquez and Stephanie Sabalo also ruled the Open Latin and Paso Doble categories.
Also perched highest at the podium at the conclusion of their full contact live stick events at the Angeles University Foundation were welterweight Mike Bañares, lightweight Villardo Cunamay, featherweight Niño Mark Talledo and bantamweight Dexler Bolambao.
The women’s team in Open Hoops and the men’s team in sepak takraw also copped gold medals at the Subic Gymnasium.
Before Mangrobang finished her race, Wong successfully defended her crown in the women’s taijiquan (form) event of wushu at the World Trade Center.
At the end of the comely 21-year-old’s routine, she garnered 9.67 points, comfortably ahead of Brunei’s Basma Lachkar (9.55) and Vietnam’s Thi Minh Huyen Tran (9.53).
Not bad at all for someone who would be looking for a double through the taijijian event on Tuesday, but tempered her own expectations in the lead-up to her events.
“I didn’t expect anything despite everything that has been written about me being the gold standard,” said Wong, who got all the hype after landing a bronze in the 2018 Asiad.
“I just didn’t want the additional pressure,” added the consular and diplomatic studies graduate.
Also living up to expectations is Yulo, who followed up his floor exercise gold in the World Championships last October by topping the individual all-around event at the Ninoy Aquino Stadium.
Yulo scored 84.900 in six routines, easily beating Vietnamese Dinh Phuong Thanh, who settled for the silver after tallying 82.350.
The country’s bets in wushu’s sanda (sparring) also stayed in contention as Jessie Aligaga, competing in the 48kg division, Francisco Solis (56kgs), Gideon Fred Padua (60kgs) and Clemente Tabugara Jr. (65kgs) all won their opening matches to assure themselves of at least a bronze each.
The Philippines’ 3×3 teams also stayed on course for the gold in both the men’s and women’s divisions, rolling past their rivals in the expected dominant fashion.