AN ALLURING enchantress gracefully brandishing a sword provided the much-needed spark for another golden surge Tuesday as Team Philippines kept its lofty place on top of the 30th SEA Games leaderboard.
While the effects of Typhoon Tisoy forced organizers to alter some schedules and postpone some matches, the hosts continued to turn on the heat for the rest of the 11-country field by winning nine gold medals for the day and improving to 47 overall.
World champion gymnast Carlos Yulo won his favorite floor exercise event and a couple of stick-wielding Filipino warriors completed their domination of a sport indigenous to the country to give Team Philippines more headroom with still seven days of competition left.
Each one of those wins sure came handy.
Vietnam left little doubt about its intent to push the Philippines to the limit by winning eight, including three from wushu and a veritable freebie from the Filipinos in weightlifting, that kept it at second spot with a 23-gold total.
Malaysia scooped up seven for the day to jack its total to 17 and traditional powerhouse Indonesia also started making its own move by copping five for 12, followed by Thailand and Singapore with eight mints apiece.
But the Philippines remained out of reach, at least going to Wednesday’s events where a total 53 golds are at stake, including the first seven in swimming.
A huge chunk of the credit should go to comely Agatha Wong, who started the day right for the hosts by topping the taijijian event of wushu for her second gold in the Games following her victory last Sunday in taijiquan.
Wong got 9.65 points from the judges to edge out Vietnam’s Thi Minh Huyen Tran (9.63) for the victory and finally win the one gold that eluded her two years ago in Malaysia.
Wong’s fellow martial artists were quick to follow her lead.
Competing in the 48kg division, Divine Wally kickstarted a five-gold deluge in sanda (sparring) by dominating Vietnam’s Thi Chinh Nguyen.
The men then took over as Jessie Aligaga (48 kgs), Arnel Mandal (52 kgs), Francisco Solis (56 kgs) and Clemente Tabugara Jr. (65 kgs) also notched victories, salving the loss of Gideon Fred Padua in the 60kg category.
Those wins brought to seven wushu’s total gold haul, giving Team Philippines the championship in the sport.
It did not take long for arnis to overshadow that distinction and occupy a special niche in Team Philippines’ campaign later in the day as Crisamuel Delfin and Mary Allin Aldeguer topped their respective divisions in the anyo non-traditional open weapon.
Those victories brought arnis’ contribution to the country’s cause to 14 golds out of the 20 up for grabs in the sport. The haul was six more the Filipinos harvested when the sport was first included in the biennial meet calendar in 2005.
“We couldn’t have asked for any more from the boys and girls. They exceeded our expectations. I told them we’ll be happy with 12 golds but they gave us 14. I’m just happy.
This is for the country,” said Philippine Eskrima Arnis Kali Federation chairman and president Juan Miguel Zubiri.
Already the winner of the all-around title, Yulo added the floor exercise gold to his trophy case but saw his bid for a sweep of all seven golds staked in men’s artistic gymnastics vanish when he could only land the silver in both the pommel horse and still rings later in the evening.
Of the 10 near-misses Team Philippines had for the day, the sorriest one belonged to weightlifter Elreen Ando, her bid for a first Games gold and a second one in the sport following Hidilyn Diaz’s victory in the 55kg category last Monday foiled by confusion.
Vietnam’s Pham Thi Hong Thanh was supposed to go first and took one minute in the supposedly two-minute rest in-between lifts. For one reason or another, the order of performance was abruptly changed and Ando had to take the Vietnamese’s turn.
That left Ando the remaining minute of what was left from Thanh. She was still meauring her grip on the bar when the buzzer sounded, indicating her time was up.
Ando was trying to clear 120 kilograms on her third and final attempt in the clean and jerk, which could have easily given her the win. The 24-year-old was reduced to tears as Thanh ultimately stole the gold with a 124 effort in the clean and jerk and totaled 214.
Ando, who had 98 kgs in the snatch, got credited with a mere 115 kgs hit right on her second lift in the clean and jerk and had to settle for the silver with 213.
Diaz, who was in the spectators’ stands avidly cheering for Ando, also became emotional and had to be comforted by her companions.
SOTTO WEIGHS IN
Senate President Vicente Sotto III yesterday said he was satisfied with the overall preparations for the 30th Southeast Asian Games but added an accounting of expenses should be done after the games to determine if every single centavo was well spent.
“I’m satisfied even with the preparations, everything was in order, everything was thought of… Siguro (maybe) there would be an accounting. Let me call it that. Perhaps there should be an accounting of the expenses,” Sotto said.
Several missteps reported before the games started were attributed by some congressmen to the Senate causing delay in the release of the SEA games budget.
The Senate leadership has repeatedly denied that the senators were to blame for the delay in the release of the P6 billion budget, saying the House of Representatives should be blamed as the latter transmitted the General Appropriations Bill for the 2019 proposed budget only on November 24, 2018.
Despite the few failures and bickering, Sotto said he was still content with the preparations.
“Even if we were blamed for the delay in the release in the SEA Games budget, still, the preparations were enough for the country to be happy about results. They are honored to be Filipinos… So, let’s keep praying, let’s keep on supporting our athletes because they carried the flag of the Philippines,” he said.
Aside from the Commission on Audit, Sotto said the Senate committee on finance or the House committee on appropriations can look at the expenses incurred for the games.
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, who chairs the Philippines SEA Games Organizing Committee, had said he is ready to face any investigation on the alleged corruption in the preparation and actual execution of the games that will end on Dec. 11.
“(On) Dec. 12, hold me accountable, hold the SEAG organizing committee accountable. I will not hide. I will face the Senate and the ombudsman,” Cayetano had said. – With Raymond Africa