When the Filipino athletes plunge into action in the 29th Southeast Asian Games a week from now, they will, actually, be celebrating the 40th anniversary of the country’s admission to the athletic aggrupation of the now 11-nation conclave.
The Philippines, along with Indonesia, was admitted into the Southeast Asian Games Federation fold on February 5, 1977 transforming what was then called the Southeast Asian Peninsular Games to what is now SEA Games. Eight months later on October 10 that same year Brunei joined the Federation, raising the member countries from seven to 10. East Timor was accepted a few years later.
And on November 19-26, 1977, the red-white-blue clad contingent from the Pearl of the Orient brandished their wares for the first time in Kuala Lumpur against the brightest from Burma, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, ending up third place overall with 31 gold medals behind new overall champ Indonesians and Thais.
Spearheading the Filipinos’ campaign were their world-class bowlers, headed by World Cuppers, Tito Sotto, now a senator, and Rene Reyes in the men’s division and Rosie de Leon and Lydia Diaz in the distaff side and archers June Santos and Jojie Guerrero.
Ms. De Leon went home with three gold medal up her sleeves, ruling the All Events play while anchoring the women’s Team of 4 and Team of 5, along with teammates Diaz, Norma Martin, Nelie Castillo and Lolit Reformado.
Reyes was at his bet in the men’s doubles in tandem with John Lee and Team of 5 with Sotto, Sonny Sugatan, Jimmy Cano and Eddie Lim. Rounding out the bowlers’ six-gold medal harvest was Ms. Diaz’s and M. Castillo’s triumph in the women’s doubles.
Archers’ Santos and Guerrero, likewise, dominated their sport with five-gold medal winnings. Ms. Guerrero took top honors in the 36 arrows 50-meter event and 30 arrows 30-meter that gave her, too, the overall individual title with 1,180-point performance. Santos topped the men’s 30-arrow 90-meter and the 38-arrow 70-meter disciplines.
The cyclist took home four gold medals, courtesy of Resituto Talaver in the 800-meter massed start race, Rodolfo Guaves in the, 800-meter individual massed start, Benjamin Evangelista in the 10-kiometer individual massed start. Evangelista along with Henry Bergado, Rodolfo Plaza and Talaver outclassed the opposition in bagging the 4,000-meer team pursuit.
Reynaldo Fortaleza emerged as the featherweight kingpin in boxing, Ruben Mare in lightweight and Fernando Cruz in welterweight in a three-gold medal production of Pinoy simonpures matched by weightlifters Jaime Sebastian (super heavyweight), Arturo del Rosario (bantamweight) and Gabriel Navarro (heavyweight).
Athletics contributed a gold medal to the country’s cause through the efforts of javelin thrower Erlinda Lavandia as well a swimming through breaststroker Jairulla Jaitulla.
The men’s basketball team made up of Anthony Dasalla, Joy Carpio, Jimmy Javier, Ely Capacio, Jimmy Manansala, Etok Lobo, Ramon Cruz, Angelito “Amang” Ladores, Fritz Gaston, Alex Clarino, Joseph Herrera ad Paul Velasco started what was a seven straight title conquest for the country that was short in 1989.
The women’s volleyball side composed of Naraida Da Rosa, Emma Reynoso, Elena Penarejo, Josefina Malate, Virginia de Jesus, Marilyn Bautista, Alma Malapote, Maria Fe Mejia, Violeta Rastrullo and Mary Ann Curzcosa upstaged its men’s counterpart by bringing home the bacon.
From a third place overall in 1977, it had been a roller-coaster ride for the Philippines’ campaign in the biennial conclave. It dropped to fifth place in 1979, regained third again in 1981 in Manila before advancing to second in 1983.
The Filipinos skidded anew to third in1985 and 1987, fifth in 1989 before fashioning out their best in the “Manila Miracle of ’91” finally emerging overall champion in 2005. Year 2011 proved to be their lowest finish at 11th.