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TEAM PILIPINAS | Surprises, redemption in Cambodia

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PHNOM PENH—It was a story of surprises and redemption as Team Philippines fought, beat, and survived the challenges wrought by the Southeast Asian nations—and did exactly what host Cambodia did in the 32nd edition of the SEA Games that started May 3 and ended on Wednesday.

Team Philippines satisfyingly finished fifth and broke the 52-gold medal mark in the Vietnam SEA Games last year by grabbing 58 gold, 85 silver, and 117 bronze medals. 

Sports like taekwondo, wrestling, swimming, karate, arnis, weightlifting, and boxing, among others, contributed hugely to the haul while the men’s basketball team regained the title of being king of hoops in the region. 

The Philippines placed fourth in Hanoi last year with 52 gold, 70, and 104 bronze medals. Despite falling to fifth place behind overall champion Vietnam (136-105-112), Thailand (107-96-106), Indonesia (86-81-111), and Cambodia (81-74-120), the Philippines has achieved its goal this year.

“The important thing is we surpassed the medal haul last SEA Games, and we have reclaimed basketball supremacy in the region. The medal haul will speak for itself,” Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) President Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino said. 

Tolentino added that Filipino athletes have learned so much from the old phrase “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” as they adapted themselves to the rules and environment in the games venues. 

“Our athletes, with all heart and spirit, fought well and hard, and this is all that matters,” he added. “Clearly, the 32nd SEA Games theme of Peace through sports has been achieved.”

Surprise package

TAEKWONDO was a surprise package as it bounced back from the two gold medals, five silvers, and three bronzes won in Hanoi by capturing six gold, a silver, and eight bronze medals led by kyorugi Olympians Kurt Barbosa and Kirstie Elaine Alora.

The Tokyo 2021 Olympian Barbosa spearheaded Filipino taekwondo’s campaign by winning the 54 kg finweight class gold while the 2016 Rio Olympian Alora ended a 10-year SEA Games gold medal drought by winning the -73 kg women’s crown. 

The other gold winners were the poomsae’s Patrick King Perez (men’s individual recognized) and the women’s team recognized squad of Jocel Lyn Ninobla, Nicole Labayne, and Aidaine Laxa, while the other kyorugi gold winners were men’s Arven Alcantara (68 kg) and Samuel Morrison (87 kg). 

Filipino wrestlers played a crucial role in the country’s last push in the medal tally at the later part of the games, surprisingly taking in four gold medals, seven silvers, and five bronzes at the Chroy Changvar Center Hall last Tuesday.

After Jason Balabal took home the 82 kg Greco Roman gold, then 44-year-old Cristina Vergara won the gold in the women’s 65 kg freestyle event while Ronil Tubogand Alvin Lobreguito followed by snaring the 61 kg and 57kg men’s freestyle gold, respectively.

It was a big comeback by the Wrestling Association of the Philippines headed by Alvin Aguilar in the biennial meet after coming home gold-less with just seven silvers and five bronze medals in Vietnam last year.  

Filipino swimmers had slight improvement doubling their production last time from 1-3-3 gold-silver-bronze to 2-6-8 medal tally courtesy of gold medalist Teia Salvino (women’s 100-meter backstroke) and Xiandi Chua (women’s 200-m backstroke) at the Morodok Techno National Aquatics Center.

Filipino karatekas, led by Jamie Lim’s beautiful inspiring story, rose from the ashes of defeat in Hanoi to provide Team Pilipinas with two gold medals, six silvers, and a bronze. It also rebounded from zero gold medals in last year’s SEA Games—where Filipino karatekas had only secured eight bronzes. 

Lim, the 2019 SEA Games gold medalist, was left with a black eye during the 2022 SEA Games but got back against the same Vietnamese rival Vann Chakriya in the finale for a sweet revenge. The other karate gold winner was Sakura Alforte in women’s individual kata.  

Filipino traditional sports arnis under Philippine Eskrima Kali Arnis Federation (PEKAF) President Senate President Sen. Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri made a rousing return in the Cambodia games, winning six gold medals, two silvers, and bronze medals after the sport was not played in Vietnam.

Weightlifting—without two-time SEA Games gold medalist and Tokyo Olympic gold winner Hidilyn Diaz-Naranjo—also provided Team Philippines with two gold medals courtesy of Olympian Erleen Ann Ando (59 kg) and reigning 71 kg gold winner Vanessa Sarno plus four silvers and a bronze. 

The Filipino weightlifters matched their gold output from the last Hanoi games with two courtesy of Sarnoand Diaz-Naranjo. 

Redemption time 

A day before the competition held its closing ceremony at the 60,000-seat Morodok Techo National Stadium, the men’s basketball team and national coach Chot Reyes got back against newly-improved host Cambodia with an 80-69 win in the gold medal match. 

After dethroning Indonesia, 84-76, in the semifinals, the Philippines banked on Justin Brownlee’s 23 points to neutralize Cambodia’s five American naturalized players. 

At the same time, it was a big triumph in the championship round after the stinging upset in Hanoi—where Reyes was dubbed as the most hated man in Philippine basketball after Indonesia beat them in last year’s championship. 

Jiu-jitsu’s Kaila Napolis (52 kg women’s ne-waza), Annie Ramirez (57 kg women’s ne-waza nogi), and Marc Lim (men’s ne-waza 68 kg) also delivered gold each in the early campaign of Team Pilipinas.

Elite athletes

Tokyo Olympic silver medalists Carlo Paalam (men’s bantamweight) swept his foes to win the gold medal in the men’s bantamweight while Nesthy Petecio also had a redemption of her own after regaining the women’s featherweight gold medal. 

Other gold medalists were Ian Clark Bautista (men’s featherweight) — now a three-time gold winner in the biennial meet — and SEA Games newcomer Paul Julyfer Bascon (men’s light welterweight). 

Aside from the four gold medals, the Philippine boxing team also contributed five silvers and a bronze medal. 

Expected gold medalist world champion Carlos Yulo of gymnastics had two gold medals, while pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena proved to everyone why he’s the World’s No. 3 by jumping to his third consecutive gold in SEA Games despite the heavy rains. 

Veteran Eric Cray accomplished his sixth straight 400-m hurdle gold medal while Janry Ubas also made a name for himself in athletics by winning the men’s long jump gold and the men’s 4×400-meter relay of Clinton Bautista, Michael del Prado, Umajesty Williams, and Joyme Sequita also won gold.

With these feats, Tolentino believes it was a successful biennial meet after all.

“The respect and admiration we have gained from our ASEAN counterparts all the more make this 32nd SEA Games a sweeter success,” Tolentino said, adding that he would continue supporting all athletes, sports officials, and Philippine sports development in general.

“More importantly, we have done our part in strengthening the ties that bind Southeast Asian nations into a shared vision of regional inclusive growth. The 32nd SEA Games has once again proven the Filipino brand of sportsmanship and athletic talent. Indeed, the Philippine Team to the 2023 Cambodia SEA Games has made the nation proud.”

Read full article on BusinessMirror

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