Elaine Kirstie Alora will be at the forefront of the opening parade, bravely carrying the Philippine flag and the hopes of an embattled teammate as the 29th Southeast Asian Games formally opens today at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Alora was a replacement to fellow Olympian Ian Lariba, who will miss the spectacular display of lights, songs and dances as well as the traditional parade of 11 competing countries as she remains fighting for her life after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia early this year.
Joining Alora in leading the large Philippine delegation are chief of mission Cynthia Carrion, Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Jose “Peping” Cojuangco, Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) executive director Carlo Abarquez, deputy chief of mission Robert Mananquil and Robert Bachmann along with several athletes, coaches and officials from archery, athletics, aquatics, taekwondo, netball and sepak takraw, who all vowed to come up with a strong finish to surpass the country’s sixth-place finish in the previous edition of the biennial meet in Singapore in 2015.
It wasn’t Alora’s first time to lead the athletes’ march.
When the country competed in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro last year, she was also assigned to spearhead the parade in the closing ceremonies after the original choice failed to make it.
That athlete was her close friend – Lariba.
“Of course, I will be carrying the flag and playing for the country for her,” said Alora, who arrived Friday, but won’t be seeing action until the second to the final day of the three-week competition.
“I will be fighting on the 29th. But it’s okay. At least we get a good feel of the competition.”
Carrion said she is upbeat over the country’s chances, especially after the athletes delivered three medals – a silver medal from sepak takraw and a pair of bronze medals from archery – in the first five days of hostilities.
She raised the idea of having a solid performance in anticipation of the country’s hosting of the biennial meet in 2019, but remains sticking to her earlier target of coming up with at least 50 gold medals, a feat that would easily surpass the country’s sixth place finish in Singapore.
“The athletes are really in an up mood,” said Carrion, who is looking forward to the women’s marathon event on Saturday where Olympian Mary Joy Tabal has a great chance of winning the country’s first gold medal.
“I’ve been to a lot of SEA Games and this is the first time I saw the athletes in an up mood. Don’t you feel it? They really want to win something; their really fighting hard to put the Philippines up there.”
But Friday’s results were as gloomy as the Malaysian weather.
Both the national men’s and women’s football squads fell prey to more superior foes while the archers crashed in the bronze-medal match that sent prolific hawkeye Amaya Paz-Cojuangco to tears as she fails to win a medal for the first time in her four SEA Games stint.
The tandem of Allysa Salvador and Ruth Desiree Abiera bombed out in the finals and settled for seventh place in the duets technical routine event of women’s synchronized swimming while the netball squad was crushed by the host country, 11-96, a bitter setback that came at the heels of its loss to Singapore, 22-91; Brunei, 32-69; and Thailand, 16-86; in the first few days of action.
The best thing that happened was when Cojuangco formally broke the news before the SEA Games Federation council that the country’s hosting of the 30th SEA Games in 2019 is already a go after Department of Foreign Affairs Sec. Alan Peter Cayetano took the lead and agreed to chair the powerful SEA Games Organizing Committee.
His announcement was drew cheers and applause from the 34-man council headed by HRM Yam Tunku Sri Imran, who is also the president of the Olympic Council of Malaysia.