CALL them the Magnificent Seven.
This was how Philippine Sports Commission chairman Butch Ramirez described the seven outstanding athletes he will endorse as the flag-bearers of Team Philippines during the opening ceremonies of the 30th Southeast Asian Games on Nov. 30 at the 50,000-seat Philippine Sports Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.
“Each of these seven athletes have been outstanding in their respective performances internationally during the recent months so we want them to share the honor of being the flag-bearer during the opening ceremonies,” Ramirez, the national team chief of mission, said.
“This is my Magnificent Seven,” he said, referring to pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena, gymnast Carlos Edriel Yulo, skateboarder Margielyn Arda Didal, veteran weightlifter Hidylin Diaz, boxers Eumir Felix Marcial and Nesthy Petecio and Filipino-Japanese judoka Kiyomi Watanabe.
Obiena is the first Filipino athlete to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games while Yulo is fresh from a successful stint in the 49th FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany where he bagged the men’s floor exercise crown on top of making the cut to the Tokyo Olympics.
Asian Games gold medalist Didal topped two tough international competitions in the US over the weekend and is headed to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where she will compete in an Olympic qualifying tournament.
The lively Cebuana will spearhead the national team that is expected to dominate the skateboarding event making its SEA Games debut at the newly-built skate park in Tagaytay, Cavite.
Diaz, who bagged a silver medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics, ruled the women’s 53-kilogram division in the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia last year and copped a pair of bronze medals in the 55-kg class of the world weightlifting championships last September in Pattaya, Thailand.
Petecio and Marcial won a gold and silver medal, respectively, in world boxing competitions in Russia.
Joining the distinguished group is Watanabe, a three-time Southeast Asian Games judo champion in the in the women’s -63-kg division, who secured a silver in the 2018 Indonesia Asiad. She also in the midst of pursuing a ticket to the Tokyo Games and is currently ranked No. 29 in the International Judo Federation world rankings.
Ramirez said the decision of recommending these seven athletes as joint standard-bearers was done in consensus with his deputies – Commissioners Ramon Fernandez, Celia Kiram, Engr. Arnold Agustin, Charles Maxey, Stephen Fernandez of taekwondo and Ada Milby of rugby.
“Since it was the Philippine Olympic Committee led by POC president Bambol Tolentino who appointed me as chef de mission, I will make this endorsement of these athletes and leave them to make the final decision on the matter,” he said.
The recommendation will likely be presented today during the SEA Games medal assessment meeting the PSC chief has called with the presidents and secretary generals of the National Sports Associations that will field athletes to the regional games.
Tolentino earlier said that he was open to such a move, which would be another first for the Philippines as it hosts the Olympic-style competition for the fourth time.
“The more the merrier and I believe that these seven athletes (as flag-bearers) can be the rallying point of our national team in regaining the overall championship in the SEA Games,” he said. – Bong Pedralvez