WHILE the 30th Southeast Asian Games hit snags even before action officially started, the Philippine campaign is poised to end with an excess of riches on the eve of the closing ceremonies of the 11-nation sports spectacle.
As of 4 p.m. yesterday, Filipino campaigners were beyond reach of their regional rivals with 140 gold, 105 silver and 110 bronze medals, well on their way to formally regaining the overall crown the country last held when it hosted the meet for the third time in 2005.
With 71 gold medals still at stake yesterday, Thailand (87-92-111) and Vietnam (81-80-95) were locked in a fierce duel for second place while Indonesia (70-76-102) was running fourth. Singapore (52-46-60) and Malaysia (51-54-68) were likewise engaged in their own rivalry for fifth and sixth spots in the overall medal standings.
To the pleasant surprise of naysayers and doomsayers who said it could not be done, the Philippine standard-bearers had even exceeded the exploits of their predecessors, who bagged 113 gold, 84 silver and 91 bronze medals 14 years ago.
Philippine Olympic Committee president Bambol Tolentino and Philippine Sports Commission chairman Butch Ramirez played huge roles in the overwhelming success of Team Philippines.
Even before he assumed the post as POC chief, Tolentino, in his capacity as the former Philippine SEA Games Organizing Committee sports director, assessed and screened the 56 sports included in the games, putting premium on their gold-medal potential.
In Tolentino’s assessment, if each discipline delivered two gold medals each, the Philippines would be able to collect 112 gold and regain overall supremacy. The abundant fruits of his labors were all there to see.
Logistics and support was generously provided by Ramirez who, as the national team chief of mission as well as head of the government sports agency, invested more than P1 billion in the preparations and build-up of the national athletes.
Aside from providing extensive overseas training and exposure for the PH campaigners, the PSC also gave them the proper nutrition needed for their specific sports, fueling their drive for excellence.
Ramirez, also the point man of the national team in the 2005 SEA Games, obviously must feel grateful – and relieved – that 14 years later, Pinoy bets brought home the bacon anew.
Triathlon triggered the gold-medal blitz on Day 1 with an impressive 1-2 sweep of the men’s and women’s events at the Subic Bay Boardwalk in Zambales, with John Chicano and Kim Mangrobang crowned as the triathlon king and queen, respectively.
Just an hour’s drive away from the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Pinoy dancesport bets waltzed their way to 10 of the 13 gold medals up for grabs at the Royal Royce Hotel inside the Clark Freeport Zone in Angeles, Pampanga. In nearby Mabalacat, Pampanga, the Pinoy arnis warriors marked their golden return to the Games by clinching five of the four gold medals at stake on opening day.
Dancesport (10) and arnis (14 of 20) would combine for 24 mints in all, serving as the springboard for the country’s drive for overall honors in the days ahead.
Among the other outstanding performers were local bets in obstacle course racing, who swept all six events in the discipline making its SEA Games debut.
Also debuting with a bang were the skateboarders, bannered by Asian Games gold medalist Margielyn Arda Didal, who dominated and won six gold medals at the Tagaytay Skatepark as well as the downhill course in Maragondon, Cavite.
Track and field also proved to be a gold mine, delivering nine mints at the New Clark City Athletics Stadium in Capas, Tarlac, with a possible a couple more in the last day of action yesterday. The local tracksters have exceeded the four gold medals won by the country in the 2017 games in Malaysia.
Also making solid contributions to the country’s gold rush were taekwondo, boxing and wushu along with windsurfing/sailing.
Swimming, the other centerpiece and medal-rich event at the Games, produced one as James Deiparined ended the country’s 10-year-old dry spell with a big win in the men’s 100-meter breaststroke race.
Among the huge disappointments were bowling and dragon boat rowing, which both laid a big fat egg, and could their find their respective budgets from the PSC next year under intense scrutiny.
Easily the most outstanding individual performer was world gymnastics floor exercise champion and Olympic-bound Carlos Yulo, who wowed the crowd at the newly-refurbished Rizal Memorial Coliseum by bagging two gold and three silver medals.
There were endearing performances, too, notably rhythmic gymnastics gold medalist Daniela Pisa, 16, a cancer survivor, who topped the hoops event and also bagged a pair of bronzes in the ball and club events.
UP summa cum laude graduate and karateka Jamie Lim made a golden comeback after a four-year layoff, dedicating her victory to her ailing father, hoops icon Avelino “Samboy” Lim, and her mom.
Perhaps the most glowing feat in the games was accomplished by surfer Roger Casugay, who rescued his Indonesian rival from drowning in the waves off San Juan, La Union, at the expense of his own life and gold-medal chances.
The Pinoy Good Samaritan’s good deed did not go unrewarded as he returned to the scene of his heroic act and won the men’s longboard gold. That, as far as Filipinos are concerned, personified the country’s golden drive.