Filipino marathoner delivers 1st gold medal in SEA Games
KUALA LUMPUR: Mary Joy Tabal fulfilled her promise of delivering the country’s first gold medal when she ruled the women’s marathon event of the 29th Southeast Asian Games Saturday morning in Putrajaya.
Tabal – the pride and hope of Barangay Guba, Cebu City – masterfully took control of the cloudy weather and difficult terrain to cross the finish line after two hours, 48 minutes and 26 seconds, to finally dominate the 42-kilometer race after a forgettable performance in the previous SEA Games and the Rio Olympics last year.
She knocked the crown off the head of Natthaya Thanaronnwat of Thailand and Hoang Thi Tanh of Vietnam, who settled for the second and third places with 2:58:17 and 2:55:53, respectively.
“Every step I made was heavy as I carried with me all the hardships I suffered before the run,” said Tabal, who turned emotional as she waved the Philippine flag while doing her victory run, amid the cheers of hundreds of migrant Filipino workers.
“I was nervous at first but every time I heard the cheers of the Filipinos along the route, my body gained strength,” she added.
Shortly after crossing the finish line, no less than Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association (Patafa) President Philip Ella Juico gave her a bottle of water.
Malacañang lauded Tabal for her feat.
“We congratulate Mary Joy Tabal for giving the Philippines its first gold medal with her performance in the women’s marathon at the 2017 South East Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We now have one gold medal, one silver medal, and two bronze medals,” Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella told government-run dzRB radio.
“Congratulations to our athletes and good luck to the rest of the Philippine Team. The whole nation is solidly behind you,” he added.
Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) Chairman William “Butch” Ramirez immediately sent his congratulatory message, saying Tabal’s performance should be the start of the “gold rush” for Team Philippines.
“We’re happy at the PSC board,” said Ramirez, who went all out in supporting the athletes in terms of training, preparation and equipment. “I hope we can get more gold medals along the way.”
But the celebration didn’t last long.
Two of Juico’s prized athletes – Ernest John Obiena and Patrick John Unso – bombed out of contention after crashing with injuries a day before leaving for Malaysia.
Obiena, the European-trained pole vault specialist who is being groomed to see action in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, suffered an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury on his left knee.
Unso fell with a pulled left hamstring, completely sidelining them for the rest of this 11-nation competition.
Juico acknowledged the major setback, but called on Filipinos to rally behind other athletes who have vowed to carry the torch, like two-time Olympian Eric Cray, Kayla Richardson, Christopher Ulboc and Trenten Berram, who will see action when the athletics events go full swing on Tuesday.
“We win some, we lose some; that’s the way of life,” said Juico. “We are all saddened by the development, but we have to live with it. It’s just that the kid (Obiena) really wanted to win and is so determined to bring honor to the country.”
At any rate, the loss of Obiena and Unso shouldn’t affect the morale of other athletes who will be marching to the battle zone, as the competition goes full-blast following very colorful opening ceremonies at the sprawling Bukit Jalil National Stadium late Saturday here.
The fancied men’s basketball squad will finally start its quest for an 18th gold medal as it takes on Thailand, while its women’s counterpart tackles Singapore at the Malaysian Basketball Association gymnasium.
Also seeing action are national boxers Charly Suarez, Mario Fernandez, Felix Eumir Marcial and Marvin John Tupaz as well as the national bowlers, who will be under the tutelage of four-time World Cup champion Paeng Nepomuceno.
Wushu artists will also be competing together with the table tennis aces, rugby stalwarts, archers, football players, swimmers and water polo campaigners.
Ramirez said he had relayed the good news of Tabal’s victory to President Duterte through aide Christopher “Bong” Go.
“Whatever our medal standing would be, the important thing is that the athletes should be inspired to give their all,” he said. “If that’s 50 (gold medals), 100, or 35, I’m not looking at the tally anymore.”