The magic number to beat was 13, the number of total medals won by Philippines athletics in the 2013 SEA Games (SEAG).
“The name of the game is total medals, the number of times our athletes reached the podium. Each time we win a medal, it is a shining tribute to our country and we see our flag raised in victory and pride,” said Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association (PATAFA) President Philip Ella Juico.
Powered by a blend of Filipino heritage athletes and home-grown talents, the Philippine athletics team brought home a total of 21 medals, a 62 percent improvement in a mere two years.
Led by double gold medalist and double games record setter Eric Shaun Cray (100-meter dash and 400- meter hurdles), the Philippine athletics team highlighted a number of outstanding performances by young up-and-comers who stand poised to represent the country in upcoming international competitions such as the Olympics and World Championships.
“Eric Cray is already qualified for the Olympics in Rio, and is ranked top 10 in the world in the 400 hurdles,” said Juico. “This is a huge achievement to have a bonafide qualifier from the Philippines. We are targeting to have perhaps two to three more before the 2016 Olympic Games open in Rio. If this happens, it will be a complete turnaround from past years where the country’s representatives in track and field were mainly exempt (non qualified) athletes. And it takes a total team effort to achieve this.’’
Juico credited the private sector, led by CEO James Michael Lafferty, as well as Veloci Time and L Time Studio, for adding necessary funding to the athletes.
Juico also lauded his predecessors for laying the groundwork, and the support of Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) and Philippine Olympic Committee(POC) for track and field making 21 medals a reality.
A huge highlight of these games was the double gold medal victory in the 100 meters, won by Cray and Kayla Richardson, hence anointing Philippines as the “Speed capital of Southeast Asia.”
“It was a shocking performance and we overtook traditional sprinting powers Vietnam and Thailand”, Juico stated. “Never in the history of the SEA Games have we taken the sprint crown in both men’s and women’s 100 meters.”
Possible bets to make the cut before Rio 2016 and join Cray are young pole vaulter E.J Obiena, who continues to smash the national record on a near-monthly basis; and two-time Olympian Marestella Torres in long jump.
In these 2015 SEA Games in Singapore, the athletics team did not go without heartbreak, with several prior champions failing to again attain the gold medal. Most notable among these athletes was Jason Ramil Cid in Decathlon, ArchandBagsit in 400 meters, and Marestella Torres in long jump.
“Whilst some may be focused solely on gold medals, we are not. A podium finish is what matters. This is sports. Sometimes there is an injury. Sometimes a fraction of a second means the difference between gold and silver. We must be wise and celebrate the achievement and not nitpick. In three races we had photo finishes and we got the silver in all three. Give us another tenth of a second and we would have three more gold medals”, added Juico.
Juico continued, “We should also be applauding Marestella Torres. She is 34 years old and just had a baby/ She came all the way back, qualified and medaled in her event, and was only beaten by two world class jumps by the Vietnamese and Indonesian, both breaking their national records. It required national record jumps, a perfect day, to beat her. Marestella is a tribute to mothers everywhere who combine motherhood with excellence in other facets of life. She is a hero for getting onto that podium.”
A 62 percent medal improvement is a major stepchange and makes athletics one of the bright spots of the Philippines performance. PATAFA finished a respectable 4th in track and field at these SEA Games. If all NSAs had achieved a similar result, the country will win a total of 162 medals and finish a few notches higher. As of now, Philippines is on track to win a total of 115-120 medals and a 6th place finish overall.